Complete Guide to Backlinks - How to Acquire Quality Backlinks & How to Avoid Penalties
It’s hard to imagine using the World Wide Web without the benefit of search engines, though there actually was a time when websites existed without the aid of Google and similar tools. During the dawn of the digital age, people discovered new online destinations via links. But even all these years later, at a time when Google generates billions of results pages daily, these backlinks still serve a purpose with regard to search engine optimization (SEO). But what is a backlink in SEO, and how do such links affect online businesses?
What Are Backlinks?
A backlink, also called an inbound link, refers to any link that points to a particular website and originates from a different domain. The term itself boils down to a matter of perspective. A link from a colleague’s website to your own would be considered an outbound link by your colleague, but it would be a backlink for you. The more backlinks that a site has, the better – as long as those links are legitimate.
In other words, the links should come from high-quality websites that are at least somewhat niche or industry-related.
What’s So Great About Backlinks?
The number of authentic backlinks pointing to a site has a significant impact on the site’s authority in the eyes of search engines. And the more authority the site has, the higher it will rank on search results pages. That’s where SEO comes in. So how can business owners leverage this concept and boost their site’s visibility on the web?
The Basics of SEO Backlinking
Google and other search engines use backlinks to determine the value and popularity of a site. But it’s not just the quantity of backlinks that can elevate a site in search results. The quality of backlinks also plays a significant role. Depending upon factors such as the reputation of the referring source and the relevancy of the linking site to your own website, site rank stands to rise.
Having a wealth of backlinks pointing to your site is ideal, but what’s the best way to go about acquiring these links?
Quick Tips to Acquiring Backlinks
Here are a few things to keep in mind when building up backlinks:
Create awesome content that isn’t found elsewhere.
Send out press releases and offer to write guest posts for blogs in an industry.
Use tools like MajesticSEO and Open Site Explorer to identify potential backlink providers.
Build backlinks slowly over time to increase the site’s visibility.
Don’t pay for backlinks under any circumstances.
1. Build Valuable Relationships Online
The best way to generate an impressive number of backlinks is by establishing strong relationships with webmasters who maintain sites with a significant level of authority as determined by Google. But even before beginning to develop these relationships, you’ll want to ensure that your site is in top form. In other words, your content should be well-organized, and your site’s structure should lend itself to intuitive navigation. By polishing your website prior to launching your backlink efforts, you’ll be more likely to persuade site owners to link to your URL while also boosting Google’s perception of your online presence.
2. Start Guest Blogging
When learning how to create backlinks, guest blogging is among the first tactics to learn. This technique involves writing articles for blogs other than your own and including a link to your website within the piece. This practice typically results in high-quality, authoritative backlinks, but only if Google trusts the site the article appears on. So spend some time researching the top blogs in your industry, and reach out to their webmasters to see if a partnership can be discussed.
3. Distribute Press Releases
In addition to writing blog posts, drafting press releases is another effective way to seed links to a site. Many online outlets are willing to publish legitimate press releases, and depending upon the newsworthiness of your latest exploits or innovations, the potential to go viral is a distinct possibility. This is due to the fact that many niche blogs and news websites peruse press releases for content relevant to their readers. Just be sure to include a catchy headline and a link to your site in every press release you issue.
4. Engage in Article Marketing
Another proven way to create backlinks is through article marketing. This form of advertising involves companies that write articles on your behalf before distributing them to a variety of publishing platforms. This avenue isn’t as effective as writing guest blogs, but as long as you limit article marketing to sites within your industry, measurable results will be noticed. To keep rankings high, be sure to do research and only use services with stellar reputations.
5. Spruce Up Your Social Media Marketing
Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram tend to carry a high degree of authority with Google and other search engines. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to include a link within the bio section of all social profiles. In addition, make sure to post backlinks to these articles and other content. Not only will this positively impact your page authority, but it may encourage others to link to this content as well.
6. Publish on Document Sharing Sites
An abundance of document-sharing sites exist online, and they can offer some valuable backlinks by uploading your articles, white papers, and e-books to such sites. Depending upon how many articles and press releases you’ve already written, this process shouldn’t take long. And since many document sharing sites are A-OK in Google’s eyes, such resources ought not to be overlooked.
7. Take Your Time
If you’ve recently written an awesome blog post that’s not yet appearing on search engine results pages, it may seem like a good idea to immediately start spreading the word about the article far and wide. After all, generating those highly-coveted backlinks is the goal, right? This approach could backfire, though, as Google might view a rapid rise in backlinks as a red flag rather than an overwhelming endorsement. It’s better to wait for Google to crawl the site and index a new article before focusing on backlinks.
How to Check Backlinks
There are numerous applications on the internet that can help users discover which sites are linking to which digital domains. And while every application is different, any of them is bound to help when starting from scratch. But with dozens of tools available to use, how are you to know which one is best? Unfortunately, you’re likely to find lots of inconsistencies by comparing statistics gathered from any two competitors. And depending upon how important website traffic is to your business, it might not be worth it to shell out some cash for a tool that may not provide full value. That’s why it’s a good idea to start by using a free backlink checker tool, such as the one offered by Google.
Google’s Search Console (formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools) makes it easy to download a list of backlinks at no charge. Simply set up a free account with the service if you don’t already have one. Then, from the dashboard, click Search Traffic and then Links to Your Site. Click the word More from under Who links the most, and the option to download a file that lists your most recent and relevant backlinks will appear.
How to Identify Bad Links
Once the list of backlinks has been downloded, go through the list to make sure all inbound links are from upstanding sites that offer at least some degree of authority. A random inbound link from an ugly website that has nothing to do with personal content isn’t likely to do any good. In fact, it could even be hurting you. That’s why it’s best to identify any suspicious links to your site and either:
1. Contact the website to remove them.
2. Disavow them yourself.
Although there are a handful of free and paid bad link checkers that claim to identify bad links, there’s truly no quick way to determine which inbound links might be malicious. This is because Google and other search engines don’t make their lists of offensive sites publicly available. So it’s up to you to go through your downloaded list of links one by one and carefully consider each URL. Depending on how many links are there, it could take a while to go through them all. As each link is visited, make a note of which ones seem spammy or suspicious in any way.
How to Disavow Bad Links
Once a list of possible offenders has been compiled, it’s time to decide which ones to disavow, meaning which ones to eliminate or renounce so they no longer factor into search engines’ evaluation of the site. But because there's no way to know with certainty which backlinks may be causing a disadvantage, don’t start disavowing sites willy-nilly. Rather, do some research on SEO forums and seek advice about which links are likely dragging everything down. In general, sites that offer very little value to the visitor can be considered corrupt candidates.
If there's absolute certainty that an inbound link is doing more harm than good, try contacting the webmaster of that site and asking them to remove it. This is the most effective route, but not always the most realistic. If the website owner is unreachable, consider taking matters into your own hands. When that becomes the case, Google’s Disavow Links tool can be used to remove bad links from link profiles and improves your overall ranking. Sometimes, you just have to roll up your sleeves and do the dirty work yourself.
What to Do After Facing a Google Penalty
Google is constantly updating their algorithms to account for black-hat (i.e. unscrupulous) linking practices. Maybe you’ve heard of the infamous “Penguin” algorithm updates. Originally launched by Google in April 2012, Penguin specifically seeks out and penalizes sites that are believed to be engaging in spammy linking practices. These practices may include buying links or creating large numbers of low-quality backlinks.
Unfortunately, many webmasters suffer penalties without even realizing that they have sketchy backlinks in the first place. If there has been a sudden drop in your search engine rankings, now is the time to disavow those harmful links and focus on high-quality content marketing. Here’s a great article from Search Engine Watch on how to recover from Penguin.
Sometimes, after setting up an account with Google Search Console, you might also receive a Manual Action alert instructing to make some mandatory changes to SEO (Search Engine Optimization) in order to remain listed in Google Search. In these cases, Google will offer some guidance as to the next steps. Once those actions are completed, it’s advised to submit a Reconsideration Request to Google so that the search engine can crawl the most recent version of the website and give it a new ranking based on current factors.
Fortunately, those who manage their sites using online website builders like Wix and Web.com have been largely unharmed by the Penguin algorithm updates, provided they avoid black-hat SEO techniques. The SEO options that are built into the top website builders—such as page titles and descriptions—are still valid and important for driving traffic to a website.
Looking to learn even more? Explore our growing library of articles for webmasters.