Backlinks are the pillars of link building. They are a major consideration in search engine optimization (SEO) because they are powerful when it comes to helping you rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs).

So, what is a backlink? A backlink is a link from other websites that redirect to yours. These are called outbound links on their end. On your end, they can be called inbound links, incoming links, or…just backlinks.

Why do they matter in SEO? Well, backlinks are kind of like “votes” for your website. Search engines, like Google, use these links to determine the authority or relevance of your content. The more backlinks, the most trusted you are as a resource, and the higher your rankings will get.

The most common definition of a backlink is that it’s a simple link from any website, web page, or web directory (source) on the internet to your site.

Basically, if another website links to your website, that’s a backlink.

To understand backlinks, we first want to give a refresher on the purpose of search engines. These platforms want to provide only the best results when a user makes a search query. So, how do Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other search engines determine the “best” results? There are plenty of ways, but backlinks are among the prime factors.

Backlinks serve as conversations between one website and another. These links tell search engines that your website’s content is being used by other sites as a resource or to support their claims or perspectives.

For example, Company A is a popular magazine that publishes content about the housing market, and you’re a business that offers home inspection services. If they publish a blog post that links to your content, then you have a backlink!

Since Company A is popular, it will share its influence with your business, giving your website a reputation boost. The more backlinks you have, the more authoritative and trusted you appear – at least in the eyes of search engines. The result is a boost in organic traffic and engagement for your website.

Not all backlinks are created equal. There are two main types: dofollow and nofollow links. Dofollow links contribute more to SEO than nofollow, so these are the ones that will benefit you the most. So, what’s the difference between the two?

  • Dofollow backlinks: Most backlinks are dofollow links. These allow search engines to crawl, index, and connect back to your website. The more dofollow links you have from other websites, the higher you may rank on results pages. Of course, dofollow links shouldn’t just come from any random website. The ones that hold the most value are from reputable or respected sites.
  • Nofollow backlinks: The simplest distinction between a dofollow and a nofollow backlink is that the latter has a “nofollow” tag. This means that search engines will ignore the link when crawling the page. In general, nofollow links don’t do anything for your SEO rankings. Here’s what an example nofollow link looks like: <a href="" rel="nofollow">Google</a>

Backlinks are one of the 200 ranking factors for Google. However, be aware that not all backlinks are equal. A good quality backlink is far better than a generic one. A good inbound link is a mention (preferably, a do-follow) that is targeted towards your niche.

For instance, if you create a fashion blog, a good quality backlink will be from popular blogs in the fashion niche.

If you want to see all of your site’s backlinks, you can use a free backlink checker tool like this one from Ahrefs.

All you need to do is enter the URL of a page on your site and the tool will show you all of the backlinks pointing to that page:

What is a backlink: Finding all the backlinks pointing to a URL

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s move on to why backlinks are important. The Google search engine uses backlinks as signals to improve your site ranking. And while backlinks are one of the many reasons for Google to decide your site’s search engine listing, they have the most effect on site ranking. Some benefits of using backlinks are:

  • Improving organic ranking across all search engines
  • Helping your site to get faster indexing
  • Bringing referral traffic for monetization
  • Boosting overall website traffic
  • Spreading brand awareness and increasing domain authority

Not all backlinks are created equal. And if you want to sustainably grow your website, you need to get quality backlinks. There are a lot of ways to generate good backlinks, but before we get into that, I’d like to share a bit more about how backlinks work, as well as why you should not use paid backlinks.

Think of paid backlinks as a fitness supplement and SEO as your site’s workout. As with physical exercise for our well-being, your site’s health might improve with paid links.

Now, taking a supplement is not bad for you, provided that you take it regularly and only as needed. However, if you take a lot of supplements or, as the case may be, build a lot of paid backlinks on a new site thinking it will boost ranking, you may do more harm than good.

Similarly, if you build paid links for a few months and then stop, your site will tank soon enough. The reason for this is not just negative SEO, but Google’s hate towards paid links. Buying links will not only cause penalties, but it could also get your site de-crawled from Google.

Back to the working out analogy, some would say that you don’t necessarily need to supplement your body with sketchy supplements. The same goes for your site, and a natural, organic backlink is the way to go (as opposed to a paid one). Yes, in this case you can’t fast-track the process, but you can definitely follow powerful strategies to help your backlinks make an impact.

Here are some strategies to help you generate valuable backlinks:

1. Guest post on popular blogs

Guest posting is something that every serious blogger does at least once. It’s where you publish a post on someone else’s blog in exchange for some links back to your site.

We have an entire guide on guest posting, but one good strategy is to use Google search operators to search for terms such as:

[YOUR_NICHE] blog write for us
[YOUR_NICHE] blogs accepting guest posts

You can then perform an email outreach with a list of a few ideas and a few of your recent posts. Here are some tips for writing good guest post pitches.

One of the most underrated techniques is creating high-quality content on your own blog. Creating long-form content is good for attracting backlinks, as well as improving read time and indirectly improving your SEO. Other than long-form content, you can also perform surveys, publish statistical data, and so on.

Basically, make your content so unique and awesome that other people can’t help to link to it.

For example, the hosting survey that we publish at CodeinWP is so unique that it attracts backlinks. Because we collect survey data from thousands of users, it would be tough for another blog to copy this idea.

3. Perform outreach

Creating high-quality content sometimes isn’t enough – you also need to get other people to see that content! To that end, you should try to build relationships with other sites in your niche so that, when you publish a great new piece of content, you can share it with those people (in a non-spammy way) and hopefully get some backlinks.

Getting more backlinks is one of the most important strategies to improve your site’s ranking in Google.

However, don’t try to take shortcuts and purchase low-quality directory links, comment links, spam networks, or other cheap link services that promise to boost your site ranking.

Instead, publish high-quality content and build relationships with other sites in your niche to generate natural, high-quality backlinks from related sites.

While backlinks are one important part of SEO, there are also lots of other concepts you should learn to grow your site. Here, we have a lot of guides to help:

Final thoughts

Hopefully, you now have a clear answer to your question: what is a backlink? A good link building strategy includes quality backlinks that redirect to your website. These inbound links from reputable websites are what signals search engines that your content is authoritative and relevant.

With this knowledge in mind, step up your SEO game by building more backlinks to your site. They are a guaranteed way to improve your rankings.

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