In the last Beginner SEO blog post, we looked at internal linking and why it’s important for SEO. In this next post, we look at links to your website from other sites: why they are important, the value they can bring, and mistakes to avoid.
Inbound links, also called backlinks, are simply links to your website from other sites. The reason they are important from an SEO perspective is that they act like a vote of confidence in your site. Part of a search engine’s algorithm takes into account the number and quality of internal links to your website when assessing your site’s quality. Therefore, the more good links you have, the more likely your site is to rank in the SERPs (search engine results pages). However, it’s not that simple…
The idea of inbound links being important for SEO dates back to the late 90s, when Google co-founder Larry Page introduced PageRank, an algorithm which Google used to measure the quality of a website by looking at the number of links pointing to said site. As mentioned, the reason for this was because it was considered to be vote of confidence for a site, indicating that it was quality, relevant and trustworthy.
However, not all links are created equal. As it began to become common practise to purposefully obtain links to sites (link building), SEOs began to create ways to trick Google into overestimating the quality of a page. People started to abuse simple link building techniques to achieve a higher search engine ranking. Many SEOs were submitting their site to hundreds of directories and spamming comment sections of blogs with hyperlinks, of using private blog networks (PBNs) to essentially create false links. Google soon caught on to this and stopped assigning value to these types of links.
More recently, Google has gone even further to prevent this kind of link building activity by actively penalizing sites which overuse spammy link building techniques. Google’s Penguin update, first introduced in 2012, was put in place to do just this. So nowadays, with the risk of being heavily punished for bogus linking strategies, it is more important than ever to know which link building techniques to avoid.
Google is also wise to sites to which users can freely add links, such as forums and comment sections, and links from these types of sites hold little value.
And finally, some sites also use nofollow attributes to prevent Google from following a link. This may affect the value of the link to your site, as it indicates the site is not important enough for the Google to go and crawl.
As mentioned, link building is the practice of taking actions to increase the number of links to your site, and has long been an integral part of the SEO process, due to the importance of inbound links for rankings.
However, as also mentioned, spammy link building activities that generate lots of low quality links are to be avoided at all costs.
You want links to your site to seem natural and be from relevant pages (for example sites within the same industry as yours) that are of a high quality. Although Google no longer makes the PageRank score of a site public, there are various SEO tools that estimate the score, such as Moz, Majestic and Ahrefs. You want to aim to acquire links from sites with a higher score than your own, as some of their value is passed on to boost your own site’s score when they link to you (although it is usually not as direct as this – you need to build up a good link profile over time).
How to build links is a whole other series of blog posts, as there are many different ways to acquire links to your site. Generally though, good link building should be based on utilising your industry connections and creating good quality content that others either want to host on their sites or are happy to link back to.
The main reason for link building is to boost your site’s ranking in organic searches. However, there are a number of other benefits to be gained from the practice. The industry connections established through the link acquisition process will help your business to build relationships with other relevant industry professionals. The traffic to your site is also likely to increase through referrals. As well as this, link building is a positive step in overall brand establishment as your brand is able to reach new audiences.
There has been speculation that the importance of links in rankings is decreasing thanks to higher value being placed in social signals such as tweets. However, for now it is still clear that the more high-quality links you can get to your website, the better it will rank. Although the details of Google’s algorithm remain unknown, it is still a firm belief amongst the SEO community that links play a large role in determining the quality of a page. This was confirmed by Moz’s 2015 survey of SEO professionals, in which it was agreed that links remain the biggest factor in a page’s search engine ranking.
Keep your eyes peeled for more on the Kumo blog about how to build good links to your site. And for now, don’t forget to check out the rest of our Beginner SEO series!
Rachel has been working at Kumo since the start of 2018 and is a Search Engine Marketer and Head of Content. She makes sure all Kumo's clients always have fresh, engaging content that helps their websites rank and attract links.
She is also fluent in German, which comes in handy for any German websites that need content and SEO work!