[Guide] What are Backlinks and Where to Find Them

As anyone who has begun to dip their toes into SEO can tell you, one cornerstone of your SEO strategy is inbound links, or backlinks. Backlinks are links from an external source, like a news website or a different site’s blog post, to your website. Backlinks communicate link equity to your website, or a signal of authority and trustworthiness that Google takes into account when it comes to ranking results in search. The more high authority backlinks driving Google’s army of crawl bots to your site, the higher quality your site will be in the eyes of Google, and the higher your page will be in search rankings. 

graphic of a laptop with inbound links pointing to it

What is a Backlink Profile?

As we touched on above, backlinks are incredibly important to your SEO strategy. A company’s backlink profile, or all the links that direct to your site, is both a ranking factor and a place you can focus SEO efforts to improve your site’s overall Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (EEAT) metrics in the eyes of Google. The more high quality and high authority sources link to your site, the more Google will see your site as an authority in and of itself.

The goal for a successful, well optimized website, is to have a diverse and well-rounded backlink profile. Ensuring no spammy or potentially harmful links are driving to your site is also paramount, as they can damage your site’s metrics. Be sure to carefully monitor your backlink profile and disavow any spammy or otherwise unsavory links. Note: we’ll address how to do that later on in this post.

Link Quality vs. Link Quantity in Backlinks

In the past, a website with the largest number of backlinks pointing back to their site, or even just a certain page on their site, would likely occupy the top position in the search engine results page for that keyword. This resulted in many websites building large numbers of low quality, non-relevant backlinks with the sole purpose of increasing the quantity of their backlinks. 

Now, especially in the wake of Google’s late 2023 Helpful Content Update, these low quality backlinks cause more harm than good. Why? 

  • They don’t add to the user experience within the search engine. 
  • They can also result in manual penalties to your website that will completely erase your visibility from the search engine results page.

Focusing on relevant, high quality link building will benefit your site much more in the long term as it will drive qualified, and more engaged traffic. While it takes more time, it’s better to build a long-term strategy and reap the benefits rather than think shortsightedly and potentially incur penalties you’ll then have to spend time and resources remedying. 

Strong backlinks are harder to earn, they’re well worth their time.

What is a “quality” link?

What qualities make the best backlinks the strongest for your site? There are many aspects to a link that makes a backlink “high quality.” On the broadest note, high-authority, relevant websites tend to make for more quality backlinks. Whereas sites with no real authored content or discernible audience are often considered low-quality, and potentially harmful. 

Here’s a breakdown of the main components of what makes the strongest backlinks:

Topical Relevance

Topical relevance of a link boils down to the following question: Does the context of this link make sense? 

You want to ensure the placement of your link makes sense both to users and to search engines. Ideally the text of the content relates to the link as well the meta tags of the linking page.

Backlink location

Where a backlink exists on a given page can also influence its perceived quality:

  • The backlinks should have a “natural” location on the page, ideally in context. 
  • Links on the sidebars or in the footers should be avoided. 

The link shouldn’t look like it was “placed” somewhere just because, but rather should appear as if it occurred organically. A perfect example of this might be a news article that cites your page and includes a hyperlink within the text of the article. 

Branded or natural anchor text

Backlink quality can also be determined by the anchor text used to describe said link. We’re talking about the hyperlinked text on a website that when you click it, takes you off site to follow the link. 

  • The anchor text should not be an exact match. 
  • It should appear naturally within the context of the page. 
  • Ideally it is a mix of branded anchor text with some long tail keywords. 

If you have control of the anchor text, it should incorporate the keywords you are trying to rank for into natural flowing content, rather than exact match. Be sure to avoid a pattern of repeated anchor text in your backlink profile if you have any editorial control.

For example, the anchor text above- “relevant content” – links to a DTC blog called “The Importance of Content Relevance vs. Newsworthiness in Digital PR.” Given that the anchor text summarizes a key aspect of the piece it’s linking to, it works well and naturally within the text. The only thing that might be better would be a piece of branded language, but in this case, that would have felt very unnatural within the flow of the sentence.

The link source is trusted

The link is located on a website of authority within your industry/niche. Would users or search engines trust the information on this website to be credible? A great at-a-glance indicator is to use Moz’s Domain Authority (DA) score: on a scale of 1-100, the higher the DA score, the more authoritative and trusted the site is. As such, high DA backlinks tend to be a high quality backlink.

Link diversity

Think about it: would you trust a paper that only cited one book? Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. The search engines want to see a well-rounded mix of different types of backlinks from different sources within your backlink profile.

The value of ‘do follow’ and ‘no follow’ links

If you’ve been in the digital marketing and content world for a bit, it’s likely you’ve come across the term “no follow” link. But what exactly does that mean and what are their values?

Backlinks occasionally have a line of code attached to them that renders them a so-called “NoFollow” link, which translates to an instruction for Google’s indexing bots to stay on the page, rather than jump to the site the backlink drives to. This in theory would then provide less link equity. Other sites can also have a sitewide code that functions as a “NoFollow” instruction.

While this might inspire you to write off NoFollow links, they still imbue a degree of trust and authority to your site. Paired especially with a brand mention, they can still help your SEO.

Syndicated backlinks

Another type of frequently debated type of backlink is a syndicated link. Link syndication occurs when several sites run the same content; sometimes they refer back to the original site via a link known as the canonical link, and sometimes the content is replicated without– this is called passing value. 

Syndicated links can often appear in news articles; if the main FOX bureau runs a story, it might syndicate to every metro DMA. Alternatively, if a national tier publication runs a story, several smaller sites will run the same story hoping to achieve some of the same readership. 

While these links all pass on a degree of equity, you might be asking “how much?” Generally, syndicated links provide less link equity than a typical backlink, but in many situations, the sheer volume of syndicated links makes up for this. 

Read more about how syndication works in our blog “How Local News Syndication Happens Online.” 

Strategies to Build Your Backlink Profile

You know you want to add high quality backlinks to your website: but how? High value links can be hard to come by, and talking about “link building” in the abstract isn’t very helpful. Here are some basic link building strategies in 2024 to begin to earn high quality backlinks:

Write Guest Posts

Guest posts on other sites are a great way to drive traffic to your own site without having to create a ton of new content: find publications or blogs that could use your expertise and take the opportunity to link to your site. Not only are you better establishing yourself as an authority or thought leader, but you’re doing so in an SEO-friendly way. Win-win!

Create shareable content

Viral posts can generate a ton of backlinks. While it’s sometimes hard to catch the flames of virality, there are a lot of different content formats that will inspire many to share (and link).

Write an authoritative blog post

Writing a well-researched, authoritative blog post on an area of expertise will help your site rank more effectively on search engines and drive more organic traffic to your site, which increases the likelihood of backlinks.

Create a news-first content campaign

We’d be remiss if we didn’t extol the virtues of news-first content campaigns, researched and designed for journalist consumption. While still relevant to your site, these new data studies- surveys, rankings, even Google search trends analysis are designed to earn high quality links through direct promotion and media outreach

As an agency specializing in content (content that builds links) we know that these content types are great fodder for journalists looking to add content of their own to the news cycle. Through targeted outreach and intentional creation, you can create a robust backlink profile that will boost your site in rankings.

What not to do in linkbuilding

We’ve covered a few strategies on how to earn high quality backlinks to your site, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t also touch on what not to do. There are several unscrupulous ways to earn backlinks that can pose a serious risk to your site if detected.

Black hat link building

So-called “Black Hat Link Building,” or paying for backlinks, used to be a very popular way to skyrocket a site in rankings. However, in recent years, if Google detects black hat link building practices– including sudden jumps in backlinks, particularly spammy inbound links, or use of automated link building, it will penalize your site quite intensely. The promises of fast results will turn to ash when you realize that Google is now penalizing your site and you must disavow potentially hundreds of links. 

Some red flags you might detect include a sudden, drastic increase in link quantity in your backlink profile; spammy blog comments driving readers to your site; low quality guest posts; and blog networks duplicating content. It’s important to disavow links like this to ensure that Google does not penalize your site for unscrupulous link building. 

How to Find Backlinks

With all of this information on backlinks, it’s time to figure out the state of your own backlink profile. As you might imagine, this is not difficult. The best way to stay atop of your website’s backlink profile is to utilize the right tools.

Top free tools for checking the quality of your backlink profile

There are a ton of tools out there that you can use to find and monitor backlinks, but here are some of our favorite free backlink checkers that our SEO and digital PR teams use to perform a link audit:

  • AHRefs Free Backlink Checker – AHRefs offers both a free and paid version of its platform; it operates on ‘DR’, its own proprietary score for websites, but it is highly effective at finding backlinks
  • SEMRush Backlink Analytics – SEMRush is another SEO tool that offers a robust backlink section in its paid software; its free offering is also effective
  • Moz’s Link Explorer – Moz, the creator of the widely-used DA score, offers a backlink finding service as well
  • SEO Spyglass – This is a powerful free tool to find backlinks
  • SEObility – This is also a free way to check backlinks

Using these tools, simply paste the URL of the site you’d like to investigate (your own, or, as can be useful, your competitors’) and see what comes up. A particularly useful strategy is to see where your competitors are receiving backlinks so you, too, can capture those links.

By conducting a backlink audit of your site  and ensuring your site only has high quality links, you can be confident Google is not penalizing your site. 

How to monitor your backlink profile

It’s also important to set up a backlink monitor to keep an eye on the overall quality of the backlinks of your profile. We use BuzzSumo, which is a paid product, but using alerts like Google Alerts or Talkwalker can also be useful.

Monitoring your backlink profile is important because low-quality or spammy links can harm your site, and it’s important to disavow any links that could potentially hurt you in search. This doesn’t have to be a daily task, but creating alerts and checking the quality of inbound links can save you time and headaches in the future.

Conclusion

As you can see, backlinks are a crucial component of solid SEO strategy and well worth spending time and effort on building out. High quality links take time to earn but they’re definitely worth it. Don’t feel like you have the time? Reach out today and let us help you build the backlink profile of your dreams. 

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