Authoritative Inbound Links Improve Your Search Rankings
Let’s examine why backlinks (inbound links from external sites) improve your search engine rankings, how to obtain them, and which are most valuable.
What Is a Backlink?
A published link to your domain originating from any website other than yours is an external link to your site. In the search engine optimization field, these votes of confidence are called backlinks.
Why Are Backlinks Important?
From the time Google’s founders first contemplated how to dominate the lucrative business of indexing and ranking websites, they knew the public would gravitate to the search engine that consistently ranks relevant and authoritative websites above sites likely to be less reliable and less helpful.
Their challenge was to develop and refine an algorithm that outperformed every other search engine in prioritizing (ranking) web pages that were apt to be the most meaningful and relevant for any and every keyword query.
How Many Backlinks You Have Matters to Google
Google’s founders realized that the number of inbound links (backlinks) a site attracted was one way to rank its value to the public.
Your site may claim that your restaurant makes the best chili in the state, but if lots of other websites (restaurant reviews, tour guides, etc.) agree by linking to your site, the external votes (backlinks) substantiate your claim.
Google’s engineers also realized some backlinks carry more gravitas than others, a concept co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page developed at Stanford in 1997 and nicknamed PageRank, a ranking factor Google still values.
For example, a site like the New York Times, with 414 million inbound links from external websites, is more authoritative (in Google’s opinion) than a local restaurant site like whichrestaurantmakesthebestchiliinthestate.com. (The chili site is an example and not currently a registered domain.)
A link from nytimes.com, which Google deems highly authoritative, will boost your Google search ranking. A link from whichrestaurantmakesthebestchiliinthestate.com (example domain) may increase your rankings, but not as much.
Bonus traffic: Millions read the New York Times every day, so your site is also likely to receive a traffic spike the day nytimes.com links to you.
Editorial Links Are Best
Additionally, the kinds of links you get matter. Links that are editorial, meaning they appear in website content, convey more ranking power than any other links (from the same or a comparable domain). For example, if a food blogger at whichrestaurantmakesthebestchiliinthestate.com tries your chili, writes a post about it, and links to your site from that post, you’ve received an editorial link that will likely boost your chili rankings.
An editorial link from an authoritative site like the New York Times is SEO gold!
As the number and authoritativeness of your inbound links grow, your visibility on Google will improve. In contrast, if you acquire external links by paying to place a link on someone else’s site, Google will usually know it is not an editorial link, in which case the paid link will not help your ranking as much as those editorial links. It may not help at all.
How Does Google Determine Link Authority?
One of the astounding things about Google and one reason it commands above 90% of global search traffic by most estimates is that it indexes billions of web pages, images, and videos. It then applies its top-secret and ever-changing algorithm containing 200+ ranking factors to analyze the content on each website along with each link within each site, each outbound link, and each inbound link. The scope is mind-boggling.
Google isn’t the only company that indexes the entire web. Tools used by Search Engine Optimization professionals do their best to replicate Google’s indexing to forecast how a website will perform in organic searches, as do Google’s search engine competitors. But Google does it best, and their daily algorithm tweaks are designed to keep them in the lead.
So, How Can I Get Backlinks?
There are many strategies to increase your site’s inbound links. Two reliable methods are:
1. Deliver high-quality content and perform outreach
2. Join groups, events, directories, and contribute
Let’s examine these methods.
High-quality Services, Products, and Content, Plus Outreach
Provide high-quality products, or services, or editorial content. Then let people know about it. For example, if you are a restaurant, make great chili and then invite local food critics or food bloggers to review your culinary masterpiece. If you are in the recipe business, offer high-quality, tested recipes with beautiful photos, then initiate a PR campaign. Send out press releases about your new site, reach out to bloggers to review your creations, etc.
The idea is that if people try your chili and love it, they will write about it and link to your site – producing a coveted editorial link. Or in the recipe example, bloggers who like your recipes will write about them and link to your site. In both cases: Voila. You have earned editorial backlinks. And even if the NYT doesn’t review your chili, Google will appreciate those editorial links from food blogs. As those backlinks increase, your organic search results will rise.
Join Groups, Events, Directories. And Contribute
If our chili chef joins the local restaurant association or Chamber of Commerce, those organizations are likely to list her restaurant as a member, and that listing will usually include a link to her site. A directory listing is a select type of backlink known as a citation. Consistent citations help but tend to be less powerful than editorial links from a site Google views as comparably authoritative.
Our chef could also sponsor a local event, say an annual charity fundraiser. Usually, the event’s website, and possibly the charity’s website, will link to the sponsor’s site.
Another strategy is to showcase your expertise. Our chili master could speak at a local nutrition event about the health benefits of chili made with grass-fed beef and locally grown fresh vegetables, or at a local cultural festival about the history of chili. Those event websites will display a bio in which the chef can insert a backlink to her restaurant’s site.
May Your Backlinks Multiply!
If you’re eager to improve your site’s visibility in the SERPS (search engine results pages), increasing the number of unpaid links from reputable external sites is a great place to start. Use these simple strategies to multiply those links and watch your site’s rankings rise!
Here’s an Earned Backlink
The weekly blog, Whiteboard Friday, on Moz.com, is an excellent resource to help small business owners and online marketers learn some SEO basics. A recent post by Rand Fishkin, an internationally recognized SEO expert and Moz.com co-founder, explains why inbound links (from external sites to your site) tend to improve your site’s organic (unpaid) Google search results and suggests ways to acquire them. Our post draws on Rand’s discussion.