What Are Backlinks? How Do Backlinks Work? Why Are Backlinks Important?

by Dave Curtis on 09/14/2014 · 1 comment

in Business Issues, copywriting, Every Day SEO, Google Algorithm Updates, How to and tips, Linking, Panda, Penguin, SEO, Site Auditing, Small Business SEO


…that I’ve finally decided to dedicate an entire post to answering what backlinks are and what backlinks are all about.


Websites often display links within their topics which, when you click on them, lead you to another website other than the one you’re visiting. Those are outbound links. Outbound links on a website you’re on are pointing to a different website. So if you have a site called dogs.com and it has a link to a site called pets.com the link on dogs.com is an outbound link. However to the website called pets.com, that link from dogs.com pointing to it is called an inbound link, or “backlink”, because it’s a link pointing inbound, or, a “backlink”, linking back FROM another site TO its own site.


If you consider that the Internet is “the information super-highway” then it’s not a big stretch of the imagination to think of a link to another site as a road. That concept is important to remember if you combine it with the old saying “All Roads Lead to Rome”, meaning that Rome was a very important place, and as such, had many roads built to get there from everywhere.

Once you understand that concept then you’ll understand easily that Google (still) regards more links to a website (particularly links from quality websites) as evidence that the website being linked to is of more importance than sites that have few or low quality links.


Absolutely not. Think about a small town with lots of billboards all pointing to it, on all little low trafficked side roads and  and maybe even roads paid for by the small town to make it look like there are more roads – but even if you went there you would see a town just like every other town with nothing special about it. No extraordinary commerce, no innovation, no real diversity to provide for entertainment, culture or anything of any more importance than any other small town.


Think of Google as the self appointed, self proclaimed “official road map cartographer” of the internet. They create all of the references for people to be able to find all of the “important” sites on the internet, and one of the most important ways for them to do that up until and still including now is by using backlinks as a measurement.


When they see a site called “Rome.com” they check out all of the “roads” leading to it to see how important the places are that those roads are coming from. Sure, in a case like Rome.com a whole lot of small towns and villages will be pointing there, but more importantly there will be places like Florence.com and Genoa.com, Athens.com, and even Egypt.com going there too. Those hefty weight major roads carry a lot of traffic and are very influential with a lot of roads leading to them as well. So it isn’t just the number or “roads” or backlinks that are important, but how important the origins of those backlinks are as well.

If Google sees nothing but dozens, hundreds or thousands of valueless cheap links pointing to your site, its Penguin Algorithm Update kicks in and red-flags your site and demotes your site’s importance and drops it down in the rankings. Sometimes if there are too many such links there’s even a manual penalty against your site.  This Penguin Algorithm Update, coupled with the Panda Algorithm Update (looking for flimsy websites thin content, or content of little or no value) tells Google that you have likely paid someone to build links – and that you’re trying to trick your way into appearing prominently on its map. So Penguin is looking for junk spam-links to your site, and once it identifies your site (or if another webmaster does a manual check on your site and then turn you in), your site will be demoted by the algorithm or worse, manually.


Glad you asked. One tool which has value if you have any idea what you’re doing is WebConf’s Backlinks Tool

Please take note however that although the tool still works, the site’s own linkbuilding advice stating “Among the acceptable ways of link building are getting listed in directories, posting in forums, blogs and article directories” needs to be updated here with a word of caution about getting listed in directories and about writing articles for article directories. While posting thoughtful replies on other people’s blogs related to your business in some ways is good (done properly and not just some meaningless spamming with a link to your site), “Guest Blogging” on other people’s blogs has been beaten to death and Google frowns on it now. While directories like dmoz.org used to be highly regarded, they aren’t any more. Places like AngiesList.com will come up in search results way before DMOZ. Also important is to avoid a lot of link exchanges. Link exchanges are where “We’ll link to you, but only if you’ll link back to us.” Bad idea. Don’t do it. Then there are the deadly “Bad Neighborhood” sites you definitely do not want Google associating your site with. The tool to help you check out if a site is a bad risk is the Bad Neighborhood Text Link Checker Tool (After entering in the website in question, please wait; it takes a while). IF they are linking OUT TO A LOT OF BAD SITES then you probably don’t want them linking to you because your site will become associated with “bad neighborhoods”. You should run this tool on your own site as well. Don’t be a bit surprised to see some red bars or red X marks. The web is in flux all the time. But you definitely don’t want to be linked to, or be receiving links from, sites that have been blacklisted by the search engines, and you don’t want to get involved in link spam schemes.

Here’s What Matt Cutts, Google’s Chief Web Spam Engineer says about link spam – and the trouble you, your webmaster, or your SEO will have to deal with to fix being dropped from page 1 to page 300.


Here’s What Matt Cutts, Google’s Chief Web Spam Engineer says about GOOD and valid backlinks and their continuing importance for some time to come.

“Inevitably what we’re trying to do [as a search engine] is figure out how an expert user would say, this particular page matched their information needs. Sometimes backlinks matter for that; it’s helpful to find out what the reputation of a site or a page is. But for the most part, people care about the quality of the content on that particular page, the one that they landed on.”

Again, the very real and continuing absolute need for solid content on your website whether for more links or just for more traffic – but it’s got to be valuable content. You won’t rank without it, and the old techniques for tricking and gaming the search engines with easy, quick fix white hat, grey hat and black hat band-aids to get you ranked are going fast – and if you read between the lines, maybe for good.


Since links to a site that doesn’t provide valuable content aren’t natural, and since a site that doesn’t have enough good content on it won’t attract the valuable links you need to rank against competing websites in the same niche as yours, it’s imperative that you build more pages and improve upon your existing pages by beefing them up with more backlink worthy content. That means someone knowledgeable within your business needs to be assigned writing tasks, or you need to hire someone from an agency to do the writing for  you.

Two pro services which are not expensive are:


I have accounts with both of them, and when I’ve used them client’s have liked what they wrote. The way they work is that college students and working professionals who were good writers in college (often English majors specializing in some other field[s]) will spend some time to pick up extra money by joining these sites as writers. The better they write, the higher praise they get from the people who need the writing done, and this in turn moves them up within the service into a higher category which means they get paid more for higher level writing jobs. So these writers do the best they can with each article they’re assigned in order to move up and to make more money.

You’ll have access to multiple levels of writers in various fields of expertise. You set your number of words and length of article (and level of expertise) and post the job (including your desired turnaround time for completion). A few people will respond with their credentials and you choose the best match. That person then writes your article and submits it to you for approval. You either approve or reject it (or submit it back for revision), and then when it’s done it’s yours for your site and you put your name on it – just as if you had your own Ghost Writer. Generally think $25 to $30 for a good article of about 300 to 450 words long (anything under 300 is considered “thin”). These two services are what real agency webmasters and agency SEO professionals use to build client sites. They throw a bunch of money at these services, and also at link building agencies, and they go to work on what they’re best at: Site building SEO. Both TextBroker.com and WriterAccess.com
are relatively inexpensive pro services which aren’t generally known by business owners who aren’t experts in websites, SEO or how Google works. You’re probably among that group if you’re learning about the meaning of backlinks and link building from this page.


That all depends on the results of the Site Audit. Site audits use many tools to determine many things in various ways, and are often used in combination to check for the same things using different services. So let’s say your site looks like this when doing an audit:


Relatively low number of Backlinks and Referring Domains

But your biggest competitor has a Backlink Referring Profile that looks like this:

High Number of Backlinks and Referring Domains

Comparatively high number of Backlinks and Referring Domains

So you’ve got 764 backlinks (which is not bad at all) but unfortunately your chief competitor has 15,000,000+ backlinks. You’re dead! No WAY anyone with a small, medium or even large business (except for the very largest) can even hope to overcome that sort of a gap in a lifetime.

Fortunately that’s a trick sample though. That site with the 15,000,000+ backlinks is Google itself. But in your case if your site only has a few dozen backlinks and your chief competitors all have hundreds of backlinks and lots of interesting informative valuable content on hundreds of pages on their site, then you’ve got some work to do, but you can do it. You can turn your site and your online business around and get ranked with more and better content, and that alone may just be enough.

Last but not least – hunters have a rule: When the game is moving, stay in one place and wait for it to come, but when the game is not moving go to where it is (the known watering holes and foraging areas). So post your new articles on LinkedIn, on Facebook, in Twitter, on Google+ and wherever the game is located. Build your Facebook Page and BUILD YOUR SITE CONTENT FIRST – Then post your link within Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+! ALWAYS write your content on your own blog or site and only then post it to the social media sites.


Another way to go to where the game is, is to start gathering signups for a monthly newsletter. Though not strictly an internet backlink, your newsletter email does contain a link back to your website to the main article of value, often with an offer or a benefit or some interesting content worth sharing or even (yes) linking to from their own website.  See my article on how to properly optimize newsletters for the greatest return.

If you need any help or advice on how to make this happen for you, then either call me at 917-521-4798, 813-308-8614, or email me at suthnautr@gmail.com for professional search engine optimization services.

Previous post:

Next post: