Finding the Missing Link: The What, Why & How of Backlinks

Although Google likes to keep their cards close to their chest, we do know that backlinks are a strong ranking factor – so what makes a high-quality link and how on earth do you get one?

Kira Hawker

In the olden days, long before Google (wait, there was a time before Google?), websites were ranked based entirely on the content of the page. It wasn’t until the search behemoth started making waves that backlinks became one of the most important ranking factors for websites across the world.

Google change the playing field all the time, so keeping up with the game can be tough. First, companies were forced to deal with their Page Algorithm Update which determined that the more people pointing back to your website, the better your website must be.

Then, Google Penguin reared its head and told us that it wasn’t just down to the number of links but the quality of them too. Suddenly, SEO black-hats who had submitted backlinks from all sorts of questionable sources were penalised heavily. Businesses found that, in a matter of days, their websites sunk further and further down the SERPs into the depths of Google’s ‘ooooooooooooo’.

Now, digital marketers like us develop link-building strategies that give businesses and brands the authority they need to be better seen by Google, and therefore potential audiences. However, it’s a fickle beast at the best of times, so how can you give both Google and your audience what they really want?

What’s the Deal with Links Anyway?

Backlinks (links on a website that point back to your URL) are one of the factors that influence how Google ranks your website. Now, Google like to hold their cards extremely close to their chest, so they never truly reveal the ingredients that make up their whole recipe.

There are up to 200 ranking factors that many suspect are used by Google, however not all of them hold the same weight and building a backlink profile that increases the authority of your website adds that element of trust to your domain. Google knows that because the links that point to you come from reputable sources, that the content on your website must be both effective and relevant.

As we mentioned, before the Penguin update, it was simply the number of links that gave Google a hint as to whether your website was any good or not. This was abused by black-hatters who used things like directories or paid-for links to establish a backlink profile. This therefore helped propel websites that were poor in a technical sense to the upper echelons of SERPs. Penguin, which sounds cute but was anything but for the black-hatters, threw that technique out the window so that questionable websites were demoted.

Ok, So What’s Domain Authority?

A high DA (domain authority) score tells Google that your website and its content is delivering on its promise because people are telling others to visit it.

DA is calculated on a logarithmic basis, going from 1-100, and the higher your score the better your DA. It takes into account lots of factors that are based on link, like root domain and the number of links to create a score which you can then track as you move forward with your strategy.

If your website gets linked to from places like Wikipedia or the BBC – domains that already hold a lot of trust – then by extension your website will take on some of that trust. The BBC wouldn’t link to you if you weren’t trustworthy, right?

As Google uses a ton of factors to rank websites, DA also uses a mix of different metrics to come up with their overall score, but links play a large part of calculating that score. So, even though it’s not the be-all-and-end-all of DA, it makes a hell of a difference which is why link-building is a service that comes as part and parcel of a technical SEO strategy.

Link building between websites

Cool, That Makes Sense – But How Do I Know What Makes a High-Quality Link?

Getting links that support DA comes through one elements: relevance. If your link isn’t relevant to your industry/service, then it won’t be highly regarded by Google.

For example, if you are a website selling high-end footwear, but your link is coming from a random post in a forum about dogs, it’s not relevant. Even if the website is Dogs.com and is the primary source of all dog-related news in the universe, it’s still about dogs and not footwear. The closer the website that links to you is to your general topic or industry, the better.

How Do I Get High-Quality Links Then?

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy to getting the right links; it very much depends on your industry and the popularity of your topic. Essentially, the best way to get the right links is to create the right content for your audience, so they feel confident promoting you. Offering original content that compels people to want to share it with other people is really the basis of a lot of digital marketing.

Getting that all-important link requires patience, communication, the sharing of knowledge and information and basically proving to the online world that you deserve to be the authority in your particular subject. This all goes hand in hand with your content strategy as well. It’s not enough to ensure your meta data and alt tags are set up, or that your headings are all in the right place – it’s down to creating the content your audience needs from you.

The type of content you put on your website is also hugely important to backlinking. For example, visual mediums like infographics or images work well because they are easy to link to and offer chunks of information presented in a way that immediately communicates the message. Yes, having that information in a block of text may inspire people to link to you, but visual mediums tend to work better.

Content that can be digested quickly and that includes a lot of pertinent information in one place also does well. Listicles may seem old hack now, but they still get a good amount of traction in terms of backlinking.

If your content is original, such as a research project, and your website is the only place to find the original source it is likely to get a good amount of links. Any website that uses one of your statistics in their own content will link back to you, so the more interesting the research and results, the more likely it is to get used elsewhere and therefore linked back to.

How Do You Create a Link-Building Strategy?

When it comes to defining a strategy for getting great links, integrating all your channels seriously helps. Your SEO strategy helps define your content strategy which then extends to your link-building strategy, and vice versa.