Why is that a fun fact? Well, (A) that’s Drew in the photo above (it’s okay if you don’t recognize him outside of Nyquil advertisements) and (B) I was just thinking about that adorable moment after he won the 2009 Super Bowl and brought his son on the field with those goofily-huge noise-cancelling headphones. Unfortunately we’re not allowed to dedicate a whole blog post to hunky/charming football players that are good at acting congested while sleeping (please, Ben?), but I can write an entire post on backlinks and how they impact your SEO.

What Is a Backlink?

So what is a backlink? When one website links to another website, it’s called a link. Other terms commonly used by SEO companies and online marketers include: backlink, link-back, inbound link, incoming link, in-links, and inward links. Links are important for SEO because search engines like Google use them to measure of a website’s relevance and authority.

But not all links are created equal. Numerous inbound links from spammy-sites and link farms signal to Google and other search engines that you are cheating your way through to get higher rankings. We could write numerous blog posts (and we have) on what steps to follow in order to obtain links, but what if you already have links? There are three factors to analyze when looking at an inbound link to determine if it is helping (or hindering) your page and rankings.

Provides Value to the User

Seemingly, the main goal of Google’s search sheriff, Matt Cutts, is to be a people pleaser. He is not focused on pleasing the SEO people, web developer people, or PPC people, but rather the users of Google’s free searches. These online users are Google’s target audience, and as a business, Google itself wants users to keep visiting its site (google.com) to conduct their searches (over competitors like Bing). In attempt to keep its visitors happy, Google claims to give higher rankings to websites that also put the visitor’s happiness first.

When reaching out for backlinks, look for websites that provide value to their visitors. If visitors stay and interact with said website until they find your link, search engines will take a cue that the linking site is engaging and provides relevant value to the user’s online experience. When that site choses to link to your site, it’s another clue to Google or Bing that your site will enhance the user’s experience even more.

Links within Context of your Page

When I was looking at a website analysis of one of my home services clients, I noticed a link coming from a (poorly structured and written) restaurant directory for the service area. Why would a restaurant guide recommend a carpet cleaning service? Clearly, within the context a carpet cleaning service would have no valid reason to be linked from a dining directory (aside from bad linking schemes in a short-term effort to boost ratings).

The content on the linked-from page should relate directly to the content that is featured on your web page. The link to your page should ideally appear on the main body copy of the web page (not the footer or sidebars) and it should be one of a few links within the content. If a site has 50 outbound links to different domains, it will trigger as possible link-spamming to the search engines. The search engines can then suspect your site of purchasing (or at least obtaining) poor, invalid links.

Another way to boost the value of the inbound link, and thus also boost your SEO, is to ensure that the anchor text from the link is related to your brand or non-branded keywords. A link to Blue Corona’s SEO services page with the anchor text “world-class SEO services” is worth more in SEO juice than “this company.” (This might not always be the case. In fact, it’s possible co-citations might eventually replace anchor text.)

Links from an Authority Site

Judging the authority of the domain is least objective of these “quality link determinants” since it can be calculated on a scale of one to 10, also known as Page Rank. Getting a link from CNN.com is much better than a link from, say, SmallTownOpinionsFromTina.com. Blue Corona’s own Rish is an expert in requesting links, so check out his advice if you feel bold in going after the big guys of Page Rank.

While not every link can be from high authority sites, there are some link-acquisition methods that can help you strategically target and increase the Page Rank of websites that link to you. Here are some:

  • Ask other websites to link to you on your behalf
  • List your website in free online directories – many include a free link with signup
  • Add comments to relevant blogs and including a link in the comment
  • Participate in social media groups (like LinkedIn) and including links in posts or within comments

In all, backlinks are an off-site way of increasing your SEO, rankings, and thus, potentially leads and sales. Backlinks are judged on their domain site quality for users, relevancy to your site’s content, and domain authority. As with most SEO tactics, there are no quick fixes and easy wins within a link building strategy.