What Are SEO Backlinks?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is essential for promoting your business online. Backlinks are among the most critical ranking factors for ranking high on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Being able to access and improve your site’s backlink profile is a crucial component of SEO success. 

A backlink is a link pointing to a page from another domain, and it's among the most critical factors for ranking high on the SERPs.

What Are Backlinks?

A backlink sometimes called an inbound link, is a link pointing to a page from another domain. For example, a blog post on a gardening site might include backlinks to products listing on a hardware store’s site. 


Why Are Backlinks Important for SEO?

Backlinks are important because it acts as a vote of confidence. When a domain refers another site by including a link to an external page, it sends a message that the page has high-quality content relevant to the page that the link is on. The more high-quality backlinks that point to a page, the more highly Google will view the page, making it more likely to rank on the SERPs. 

What Makes a Quality Backlink

Creating a solid backlink profile is more complex than getting as many sites as possible to link to your page. Google’s search algorithms can detect tactics intended to manipulate search engine results, such as spam and purchasing backlinks.

Not all referring pages are equally valuable. A backlink from a highly regarded source is much more helpful than a less reputable one. Two main factors that influence the impact a link has on SEO are domain authority and relevance.

Graphic with text: Quality backlink = Domain Authority + Relevance

Domain Authority

Domain authority is a measure of how helpful and authoritative a domain is. Larger sites with a strong backlink profile have higher domain authority, and as such, backlinks from them are worth more. For example, a link from The US Department of Transportation is more valuable than a link from a small traveling blog. Domain Authority is a hidden metric that Google does not share, but Ahrefs Domain Rating score is a close approximation.

Getting a link from a high authority domain can be exceedingly difficult but rewarding. Part of what makes backlinks from these sites so valuable is how selective they are. All else being equal, the more places a page links to, the less valuable those individual links become.

Even if getting links from the biggest names on the internet seems impossible, do not despair. Backlinks, or “votes” from smaller sites, are still valuable. Even if they aren’t as influential individually, the cumulative impact of a large number of less authoritative sites can exceed the value of a single link from the New York Times, especially if those smaller sites are highly relevant to your page.


The ultimate goal of search engines such as Google is to show users results that best match the intent of their query. In other words, search engines want to offer the most relevant results. Google determines how well a page matches a query is the keywords in the content, but backlinks also provide cues to relevance.

Anchor text is one clue that offers insight into how relevant a link is. Anchor text is the visible component of a hyperlink and often appears as blue underlined text. Ideally, anchor text is descriptive of the landing page that the link leads to.

Anchor text that includes relevant keywords helps boost SEO ratings more than  a non-descriptive phrase such as “this page” or “as described here.” Generally, you have little control over the anchor text linking to your site, but when you partner with other sites to publish backlinks to your page, it is beneficial to provide guidelines about how you would like the link to display.

 The other major component of relevance is how closely the content on the pages relates to one another. For example, a link to a plumbing service would naturally fit an article on a homie improvement site about renovating your bathroom. It could be a great endorsement for the plumbing company. In contrast, that same link hosted on a video game review would seem out of place and spammy. Users aren’t the only ones who would see this as suspicious. If you have many inbound links from sites unrelated to your industry, search engines will deem those links unnatural. They may penalize your site by lowering your rank or removing your pages from the SERPs altogether. When reaching out for link-building opportunities, focus your efforts on websites that are topically related to yours.

Discovering Backlink Opportunities

Before discussing ways to build a quality backlink profile, we must cover what not to do. Never try to manipulate the SERP using dishonest practices like buying links or participating in link-building schemes. Google uses advanced algorithms to determine what content to serve users. These algorithms constantly update to provide users with the best results and catch sites trying to cheat the system. The tips below will help you build an authentic backlink profile that will boost your ranking without risking a penalty from search engines.

Existing Relationships

If you have a website for your business, then you likely already have existing relationships you can leverage to build your backlink profile. Depending on your position in the supply chain, you could request links from your suppliers or distributors. If your business belongs to an organization or group, you could establish a connection with those websites. Many companies list awards that they have won on their site to boost their reputation. If you have earned such recognition, you can take this a step further by asking the awardee to provide a link to your site.

Industry-Specific Resources

Industry-specific resources are a fantastic way to establish relevant backlinks, especially from highly reputable groups. Many industries have industry-specific directories and organizations you could seek to link to. Going back to our plumbing example from earlier. A backlink from the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association or the American Society of Plumbing Engineers would be a massive boon for SEO.

Customer Facing Resources

Many third-party sites exist to help consumers find products and services. Earning a link from these sites not only helps improve your site’s ranking on the SERPs, but can also help refer traffic to your site directly. Examples include location-specific directories and event calendars and bloggers who write content for a specific location or interest group.

Try doing a Google search as though you were a consumer looking for your product or service. See what sites come up. If they link to other pages in your industry, they might be willing to connect to you as well.

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