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What Is a Backlink? SEO Basics Explained

Julia McCoy
Wednesday, 10th Apr 2024
what is a backlink

Ever wondered why some websites rank higher than others on Google? A lot of it comes down to one key player in the SEO game: backlinks. So, what is a backlink?

A backlink, also known as an inbound link or incoming link, is a hyperlink on one website that directs users to another website.

Think of each link as a vote of confidence — the more you have, the more credible your site appears to search engines.

This simple yet powerful tool can catapult your site from obscurity into visibility but getting quality ones is where the challenge lies.

In this comprehensive guide, we break down what is a backlink, why it is important in SEO, and how to acquire quality backlinks for your website to boost its search engine ranking.

Table Of Contents:

A backlink is a link created when one website links to another.

Backlinks are important to digital marketing and search engine optimization because they represent a “vote of confidence” from one site to another.

Think of it like a popularity contest. The more votes (or in this case, links) a website gets, the more popular it is in the eyes of search engines like Google.

How Backlinks Work

Backlinks work by directing users from one website to another. When a user clicks on a link on Website A that leads to Website B, Website B receives a backlink from Website A.

Search engines like Google view this backlink as a signal that Website A finds the content on Website B valuable and relevant. The more high-quality backlinks a website has, the more likely it is to rank well in search results.

Illustration from Moz

Not all backlinks are created equal. There are two main types you need to know about:

  1. Dofollow links: These are regular links that pass “link juice” and help improve a page’s search engine rankings. Most links on the web are dofollow.
  2. Nofollow links: These links do not pass “link juice” and do not help a page’s rankings. They are created with a rel=”nofollow” HTML tag. Nofollow links are commonly used in blog comments, forum posts, and paid ads.

The key is to focus on building high-quality, relevant dofollow links from authoritative websites in your niche.

Why Are Backlinks Important for SEO?

Backlinks are one of the most important ranking signals for SEO. Google and other major search engines consider backlinks as “votes” for a specific page. Pages with a high number of backlinks tend to have high organic search engine rankings.

A study by Backlinko that analyzed 11.8 million Google search results found that the number of domains linking to a page correlated with rankings more than any other factor.

Backlinks help improve a website’s SEO by:

  • Driving referral traffic from other websites
  • Helping build authority and credibility for a website
  • Improving a page’s PageRank, which is a formula Google uses to measure a page’s importance
  • Helping search engine bots discover new pages on a website

While the importance of backlinks has changed over the years, they remain a crucial ranking factor for search engines.

Google’s algorithms have gotten smarter at identifying and devaluing spammy or low-quality links, but high-quality, relevant backlinks are still a key component of any successful SEO strategy.

Okay, so you know backlinks are important. But how do you analyze them to see how your website stacks up?

First things first, you need a good backlink analysis tool in your arsenal. Some popular options include:

These tools allow you to analyze the backlink profile of any website and gain insights into the types and quality of backlinks pointing to it.

When analyzing backlinks, some key metrics to look at include:

  1. Referring domains: The number of unique domains linking to a page or website.
  2. Domain authority: A score developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engines.
  3. Page authority: A score developed by Moz that predicts how well a specific page will rank on search engines.
  4. Anchor text: The clickable text in a hyperlink. Anchor text clues search engines in on a page’s topic.

By analyzing these metrics, you can get a sense of the quantity and quality of backlinks pointing to your website or a specific page.

Competitor Backlink Analysis

Analyzing competitors’ backlinks can provide valuable insights for your own link-building strategy.

By using tools like Ahrefs or Semrush, you can see which websites are linking to your competitors and potentially target those same websites for links. You can also identify your competitors’ most linked-to pages and create similar or better content to attract links.

Alright, now that you know how to analyze backlinks, let’s talk about how to actually build them.

Create Linkable Assets

One of the best ways to attract high-quality backlinks is to create linkable assets. These are pieces of high-quality content that are valuable, informative, unique, and compelling, making other websites want to link to them.

Examples of linkable assets include:

  • Original research and data
  • Detailed guides and tutorials
  • Infographics
  • Interactive tools and calculators

By creating content that is truly valuable and informative, you’ll naturally attract backlinks from other websites in your niche.

Guest Blogging

Guest blogging involves writing content for another website in your industry. In your guest post, you can include a link back to your own website.

This is a great way to reach a new audience and get a high-quality backlink from an authoritative domain. However, it’s important to guest post on reputable sites and to always write high-quality, valuable content.

Broken Link Building

Broken link building is the practice of finding broken links on websites, recreating the dead content, and then asking the webmaster to replace the broken link with a link to your recreated content.

This is a win-win because you get a backlink and the website fixes a broken link. You can use tools like Ahrefs’ Broken Link Checker to find broken links on websites in your niche.

Infographic Promotion

Infographics are highly shareable and can be a great way to attract backlinks. After creating an infographic, you can promote it by:

  • Submitting it to infographic directories
  • Sharing it on social media
  • Reaching out to bloggers and websites in your niche and asking them to share it
  • Embedding it in a blog post on your own website

If your infographic is truly valuable and informative, it can attract a ton of backlinks and social shares.

Testimonials and Reviews

Providing testimonials or reviews for products, services, or companies you use can be an easy way to get a backlink.

Many businesses have a testimonials page where they feature quotes from satisfied customers, and they often link to the customer’s website. You can reach out to businesses you use and offer to provide a testimonial in exchange for a link.

For more advanced strategies, read our separate blog post on how to create backlinks.

Building spammy or low-quality backlinks can hurt your SEO and get you penalized by Google. So let’s talk about what to watch out for.

Types of Backlinks to Avoid

There are certain types of backlinks you should avoid. These include:

  1. Links from spammy or low-quality websites
  2. Links from irrelevant websites
  3. Links from link farms or private blog networks (PBNs)
  4. Paid links that are not marked as sponsored or nofollow
  5. Excessive reciprocal linking

If you find any of these types of links pointing to your website, follow these steps for backlink removal.

Building low-quality or spammy backlinks can have serious consequences for your SEO. Risks include:

  • Decreased search engine rankings
  • Referral traffic from bad neighborhoods
  • Getting your site deindexed from search results

Google Penalties for Unnatural Linking

Google has several manual and algorithmic penalties they can apply to websites with unnatural linking practices.

Two well-known examples are the Penguin algorithm, which targets link spam, and manual actions for “unnatural links.”

Recovering from these penalties can be difficult and time-consuming, so it’s best to avoid any black hat link-building tactics that could trigger them.

Focus on creating valuable content and building genuine relationships with other websites in your niche. That’s the best way to build a strong, penalty-proof backlink profile.

A backlink is when your website gets a shoutout from another site. Think of it as the internet’s way of saying, “Check this out.”

What is a backlink in SEO?

In SEO, a backlink acts like a vote for your site. The more you have, especially from reputable sites, the cooler you look to Google.

Create killer content that begs to be shared or reach out and guest post on other blogs. It’s all about making connections.

A hyperlink is a clickable element on a webpage that redirects the user to another webpage or resource while a backlink is a specific type of hyperlink that originates from one website and points to another website.


Backlinks are the backbone of content marketing and SEO, serving as essential indicators of a website’s authority, relevance, and credibility.

By knowing what is a backlink and understanding how they contribute to improved search engine rankings, you can strategically leverage them to enhance your website’s online visibility and drive organic traffic.

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Written by Julia McCoy

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