What Makes a Great SEO Backlink?

Backlinks make the search engine optimization (SEO) world go ‘round. The links that other sites make to your site fuel search engines’ analysis of your site’s worthiness to rank. The reason to build your link portfolio is simple: Increase links to increase brand awareness, traffic to your site, and the conversions that drive your bottom line.

As you increase the number of high-value links pointing to your site, you increase your organic search visibility. More people see your site and some will link to it themselves. This creates a virtuous cycle that systematically improves your ability to rank.

Great links share four traits, including:

  1. Quality: Links from higher quality, more trusted sites confer their value upon your site. Low-value sites that search engines don’t trust have no value to pass to your site.
  2. Relevance: Links from sites that are topically relevant to your site will also drive more value. This relevance requirement applies equally to the content on the domain in general, the page linked to, and anchor text used in the link. For example, a link from Joe’s House of Hotdogs won’t benefit your site much, unless you sell hotdog buns, grills, or some other related product.
  3. Crawlability: Even though an element on a web page looks like a link, the search engines may not be able to access the content it links to. Links that bots can’t crawl don’t pass your site value. For example, national associations usually grant their members a page on which to list their basic information and link back to the members’ sites. However, these member pages are typically only accessible by searching the member database, which isn’t something a search engine like Google can do. So even though your member page has a link to your site, if Google can’t access it to see it, it doesn’t drive any SEO value to your site.
  4. Freedom: Links must be freely given. Never pay for links.

If you come across a shortcut or an email offering “100 links for one low price!” run away. If the search engines don’t already know about that particular operation, they’ll find it in time. In the best-case scenario, the value of those links you paid for will be removed. In the worst case, your site can get banned from the search results for noncompliance with webmaster guidelines. Either way, your performance decreases, and your money is gone.

Search engines are remarkably good at discovering complex linking arrangements that signal unnatural link building activity – buying and selling links.

One telltale sign is unnaturally specific anchor text. For example, if the phrases “best cell phone store” and “cheap iPhone 11” link to the same business in the same piece of content – especially if the content doesn’t really have that much to say that’s unique – it’s likely that there’s some sort of relationship between the content’s author and the business.

Search engines can also detect link rings or networks: Site A links to Site B, which links to Site C, which links back to Site A. Even if the linking is more random in appearance, rather than symmetrical, search engines can sniff them out and discredit them.

Of all of the different aspects of SEO, building up your backlink portfolio is one of the most difficult. Understanding the elements that make up a good link, however, can keep you pointed in the right direction as you continue your search for more of them.

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