We often hear about backlinks, but what are they? Simply, these are links from other people’s sites to your site. They are also commonly called inbound links, referring to the fact that the link in coming in to your site rather than going out to another site. So an inbound link for you, is an outbound link for the person linking to you – make sense?! Good, lets proceed …
In the beginning there were links, but no Google
Links were pivotal to navigation on the Internet in the early days. People moved around the Internet in two ways. Firstly, though entering URLs in browser bars and secondly, through the use of links between pages and websites – links from one page to another. This was because search engines were either non-existent, or not nearly as powerful as they are now (anyone else remember AltaVista?!)
This central position at the beginning of the web, meant that Google and other search engines gave them significant weight in determining the importance of pages. In fact, Googles PageRank algorithm, their scoring system for pages, is based entirely on the weighting of pages based on the number and quality of the pages that link to it. The original Google PageRank formula interprets a link from Page A to Page B as a vote by A for B.
This all means that Google and other search engines use quality in-bound links as a measure of a site’s prominence.
Quality or quantity, or both?
We must state that quality is very important for backlinks, with quantity of links considered as a far-off second. Even the original PageRank formula took into account not only the number of linking pages but the PageRank of those linking pages.
This fallback is there to prevent webmasters gaming the system by simply creating thousands of worthless links, simply for the sake of SEO.
Search engines will look at a number of things to determine the quality of sites and their backlinks. Clever modern search engines like Google also work hard to identify irregular linking behaviour and devalue it in order to combat the “gaming” of their rankings. Sites that see notably fast growth in backlinks over short periods may be flagged as suspicious by search engines and are often punished. Slow, constant building of links is seen as the manner to get the most from a link building campaign.
Search engines recognise that there are particular webmasters and programs, which build and hide links in other pages in deceptive manners and aim to devalue or actively punish webmasters who take part in this sort of activity.
As the value of links became more apparent in online business we saw the emergence of what would become known as “link farms”. These are sites created just to sell backlinks to other sites. These link farms charge money for links and offer no value to users, hence search engines sim to de-value them. Connecting with these sites can often mean your own site is seriously punished in SEO terms and is never recommended. Although in the short term certain types of manipulative linking building is still effective.
The value of good links
On the other hand, building good backlinks is a very important part of making your site visible on search engines. When you look at the ROI of all your marketing efforts, the return you get on building high quality, permanent backlinks can be astonishing.
Building backlinks can be a fantastic way to gain exposure for your site both by driving direct traffic from other sites and by improving your search engine rankings. Though there are a number of factors to be aware of, generally anything you do to build links back to your site which also adds value for website visitors is going to have a positive effecting the long run.
John wrote this guest post for Basekit – see their site for more web design and internet marketing tips.