What is a backlink? It’s actually pretty simple. It’s just an HTML link from one site to another.
So why the special emphasis? Why isn’t it just called a link?
Calling it a “backlink” implies that it’s serving a particular marketing purpose. If a site that Google views as being a quality one and an industry authority links to a site, it helps to raise the page ranking in their search results.
Backlinks were actually the original metric that the first iteration of Google used to rank search results. At first, it was extremely primitive; Google simply counted the number of sites linking to a particular site, and whoever had the most inbound links got to sit on top of their search results.
Of course, that system was easily gamed by spamming links all over the internet. Google quickly became more sophisticated, and much of the history of the development of their search algorithm is a case of them trying to stay one step ahead of link spammers.
Today, a page rank in Google search results is determined by a lot more than just how many sites link to it. Backlinks are still a factor, however. They’re just one element among many, but being linked to by high-quality authority sites is still something that can give a significant boost to a page rank.
One of Google’s primary site ranking factors is “authority.” Using a combination of their automated algorithm and manual review by actual people, Google determines the level of expertise and credibility a site has within its area of business.
It is impossible to know exactly how Google calculates a site’s authority, since that’s their proprietary trade secret (and needs to stay secret so they can stay a step ahead of the “black hats”). It is known that the quality of a site’s content, authors with verifiable credentials, references from other authority sites and organic positive reviews all play a role.
To try to put all of this in a nutshell, Google likes sites that appear to be genuinely informative with expert advice. They don’t mind a little marketing, so long as it’s ethical and not deceptive, but the more informative and useful it is the higher they’ll rank it.
These are the sites that provide the most valuable backlinks. If Google sees such a site referencing another site, some automatic assumption of authority and value is transferred to it.
Just as quality backlinks can improve a site’s search rankings, bad backlinks can harm it.
Google actively penalizes attempts to game the system with bogus, non-organic links. One controversial tactic of this nature that is still in use is the “private blog network.” This is an attempt by some SEO agencies to build legitimate-looking sites that are used solely to pass backlinks to their clients. These sometimes work to improve a site’s ranking for a short time, but Google usually catches up to them eventually, and when they do, the site could be slapped with a penalty that sends its page rank through the floor.
Another scheme worth knowing about is the bogus .edu link. For a long time, links from any .edu domain were valued highly than any other in SEO circles. That’s because Google automatically confers a high level of authority on a .edu domain, since there are unique educational accreditation requirements to qualify for one.
Some unethical agencies would advise their clients to create a small annual scholarship, in order to get listed on universities’ scholarship listing pages. The goal was to get listed on as many of them as possible to have lots of .edu backlinks pumping up page rank.
Google caught up with this scheme (as they always do). Just being backlinked from a .edu site doesn’t carry the automatic clout it once did; the context is also considered. For example, a reference to a site as a credible source from a research team or tenured professor is going to help a lot more than a scholarship listing.
Furthermore, page rank penalties from low-quality sites could create an opportunity for competitors to engage in sabotage. However, Google has considered this possibility too. They allow webmasters to “disavow” any link coming in to their site, and opting to disavow a link means it won’t be counted toward their page rank. This is done through their free Search Console tool.
Legitimate backlink building can be done in any number of ways, but all of it ultimately comes back to having content that is worth linking to! With quality written content in place that demonstrates expertise in a subject, anybody can begin to attract those invaluable organic links, reviews and shares that will enhance any content marketing strategy.
Hiring professional content creators is the cheapest, safest and easiest way to obtain unique, customized and quality content. Content creation platforms such as Lowpost are excellent tools to solve any business’ content needs.