What Are Backlinks?

The term links, often referred to as backlinks, means a clickable link from one website to another. For example, if I had a link on my website to yours then this would be class as a backlink for your website.

Google pioneered the use of backlinks as strong ranking signals, the Google Algorithm which determines exactly where websites rank for any given search engine query counted all the links into a website to build up an index of the entire web.

The more backlinks a site had the more popular it was deemed so the higher it ranked.

It didn’t take long for people to realise that having a high search engine placement was valuable and that links could be acquired cheaply (at the time) and SEO was really born from this.

If we fast forward to the present day links are still very important to a website’s ‘rankability’, the problem though is that Google are permanently fighting a war against people who try and abuse their system by pointing any old links into a website.

This has led to many types of links becoming devalued in the eyes of a search engine and other types becoming more valuable.

High Quality Links

In terms of purely SEO a high quality link is defined as one that will directly help push your site up the rankings, this is usually because Google will see the link and trust your website more than another website which doesn’t have the link.

An example of this would be if the Times online writes an article on a subject related to your business, if it includes a link to your website as a part of the content or references then this will be viewed as a highly valuable link for SEO purposes.

The Times website itself would have attracted thousands of links by itself naturally as people across the web discuss articles and reference it. These links which flow into the Times website give it a lot of link power.

Combine this with the fact that a website like the Times would most likely not link out to a poor quality or unrelated 3rd party site means that any websites it does link out to would get some of the benefit of this link flow that’s going into the Times. This would then help push your website higher up the natural search engine results.

This is one example of a high quality link, there are many other types and ways of attempting to secure them for your site but as you can probably tell, they don’t come easily and often require a lot of effort on your part to position your site correctly to even be in the running for one.

Low Quality Links

A low quality link is one that does little or nothing to help boost the rankings of your website in the search engines.

It’s a bit of an on-going industry debate but there are many, myself included, that believe some types of links can even be detrimental to the ‘rankability’ of your website.

Imagine if you built a website and put it live tomorrow, if it had no links pointing at it from other websites then Google would never know it exists. If you then placed a link on the new website and pointed it at mine do you think it would be of any benefit to my search engine rankings?

This would be a low quality link for SEO purposes as it is worthless to me. If your site became popular and ended up with lots of links pointing at it then this changes the picture somewhat however in its initial state it is worth nothing to my own SEO efforts.

Another example of a worthless or low value link would be one from a website which links out to hundreds (or thousands) of other non-related websites.

This is quite an easy thing for Google to see through their algorithm, realistically there would be no good reason for this type of behaviour apart from trying to increase the backlink counts of the 3rd party websites, in this instance Google would devalue all the outgoing links.

These are just two small examples of low quality links, and these are generally the type which are on offer when you receive those unrequested SEO or online marketing emails which promise to ‘Boost your sites SEO’ for a one off low dollar fee or a small monthly fee.

Other Link Factors

Aside from where a link comes from there are a few other factors which can affect the value of a backlink.

These include:

  • The anchor text (clickable text part of a link)
  • The location of the link on a page (in content, a footer link)
  • The number of other outgoing links on the page
  • The content immediately surrounding the text link
  • Any link tags (nofollow on the link or on the whole page)

As you can probably see there is a lot that gets evaluated when Google determines the value of a link and the ‘weight’ given to each of the factors is never precisely known, to be honest it most probably changes based on a multitude of other factors which we can only guess at…

Hopefully this gives you a bit more of an overview about links in terms of search engine optimisation.