From the earliest days of search engines, backlinks have been a key factor for determining the ranking of a web page. For many years, links were the only off-page ranking factor used by search engines, with backlink quantity being the predominant factor. As search engine algorithms have progressed, backlinks have remained an important factor. Instead of quality, however, this off-page trust factor has become all about high quality backlinks.
Importance of High Quality Backlinks
Backlinks are links on a website that point towards your site. While they can come from social media shares or directories, they usually come from blog posts and pages of other websites. This is because Google only considers backlinks that aren’t marked as “No-Follow”. No follow links tell robots not to follow the link, and are found in most profiles, forums, and social media sites.
Backlinks are the most important off-page ranking factor, and can dramatically impact your search rankings. When a site links to you, it is a vote for your page being relevant, quality content. Since the entire point of internet searching is to find quality content that is also highly relevant, linking is an obvious choice for search engines to evaluate.
By looking at the number and type of backlinks pointing to a page, a search engine can decipher how well the site is being used, what the page is about, and how many people found the page to be helpful or worthy of sharing.
Why Backlink Quality Matters
A quality backlink is a link that comes from a website with high authority and recognition within their industry or subject matter. Sites with high trustworthiness and authority (as determined by part of Google’s algorithm) produce the highest-quality backlinks.
Another important aspect of link quality is relevance. If a link comes from a website that is dedicated to the same topic as your site, the link’s vote will be worth more. Between domain authority and relevance, search engines increase the weight of a given backlink.
While search engines count all your backlinks, not all are treated equally. Quality of backlinks is much more important than mere quantity of backlinks. To understand why, imagine this scenario: You’re sick and looking for a specialist to deal with your unique illness. You speak with 5 respected doctors, and they all point you toward the same specialist. Afterwards, you speak with 30 random people who tell you about to go their local clinic. Who would you trust?
You would probably trust the word of the 5 doctors. They are very knowledgeable about the subject, and decided to refer you to another source instead of offering to treat you themselves which shows great trust in the quality of the specialist. The random people on the other hand have little to no knowledge on your unique illness, and could have selected their local doctor for any number of reasons. Perhaps it’s the only doctor they know, maybe there was a local advertisement recently for that doctor, or maybe the people were paid to tell you about the clinic. Any way, it’s a lot harder to trust that they know about the subject.
The same can be said with links. If a few high quality websites are linking a particular site, the search engine knows they are trustworthy and have helpful content. If a lot of websites point to a particular site, the search engine might care a little bit, but can’t be sure that the links were legitimate or from a knowledgeable source. One high quality link will always be trusted more than several unknown links.
You also need to worry about avoiding spam websites. If you’re receiving links from sites that are penalized by Google and flagged as spam, it can have adverse effects on your rankings regardless of the mere number of links.
In terms of relevance, a website linking to another site within its industry is a vote saying “this site explains this topic better than we could” or “this site is the original source of this information,” both of which are incredibly good signs of quality.
Think of each backlink as giving a vote to a website, except not everyone has an equal number of votes. The graph below shows the number of votes that could be given based on the type of site it comes from. Note that the graph uses hypothetical data, and might actually underestimate the importance of high quality links compared to average quality, irrelevant sites.
What Determines Backlink Quality
As mentioned previously, there are two main aspects of backlink quality: Authority and relevance.
Determining relevance is pretty obvious. If a website is devoted to the same subject as yours, the backlink will carry a little more weight. This is because they are knowledgeable about your subject and consider you a helpful source. Another consideration for relevance that is debated within the SEO community is that of page relevance. If a news website posts an article about tennis and links to a website about tennis, does that count as relevance? The news site isn’t about tennis, but the particular page is devoted to it. While different SEO analysts might give you different answers, it is likely that this would count as relevance, just not carry as much weight as site-wide relevance.
But how is authority determined? Just like every other part of the algorithm, there are many factors that affect authority, and no one is entirely certain. The best way to conceptualize authority is through the unofficial Domain Authority metric by Moz. The higher a site’s domain authority, the more valuable the backlink is. Some of the factors that go into this metric are backlinks, traffic, social shares, domain age, brand recognition, and many more. In general, you’ll know a high quality site when you see it because they are among the largest in a particular subject area.
How to Check and Receive High Quality Backlinks
Link building is an incredibly important part of SEO, and for many people it can be the hardest step. While in the past it was admissible to use black hat techniques like buying links, today’s SEO requires you to find your own high quality links. This requires a more well-defined strategy and approach to earn shares and attention.
The first step you should take is to check your current backlinks, and filter by page. Google has started to care less about backlinks to an overall domain, and more about links to a particular page of a site. To check your site’s links, many of the best programs are paid. For a free version that will show you a large amount of information, you can check out Ahrefs.
Once you know how to check backlinks to your site, the work can begin to build high quality backlinks. This is a long task that requires a great time commitment, and many great guides exist to try and help out along the way.
What it comes down to is two things: Quality content and visibility. You need to offer a perspective that doesn’t readily exist elsewhere on the internet, and you need to produce great content to showcase that expertise. Creating large guides and helping info-graphics will lead to a lot more attention and backlinks from reliable sources. The other element is making your content visible. Large guides will likely rank well in search which should help, but joining forums, posting on social media, and networking will all help your content be seen more often.
If you have unique quality content that is getting seen, you’re bound to get some links.
Linking to Other Sites
One other way to take advantage of quality backlinks is by linking to authority sources. It has long been recommended to give an external link or two in the body of a blog post, as it shows you did some research and provides opportunities for readers to learn more about the subject. These will help the SEO of the page a little bit, and the effect is amplified if you’re linking to a site with a high authority rating.
Try to throw in a link or two to high quality sites in your pages, and you could see a little boost.
Importance of High Quality Backlinks for SEO
Primarily as a way to counteract purchasing backlinks or creating many domains for the sole purpose of link generation, Google significantly lowered the importance of total backlink count. Links are the oldest trust factor, however, and are still one of the most important ranking factors. Instead of quantity, links today need to be high quality to make a notable impact on SEO. Votes coming from sites that are in the same topic area and from a reputable source carry the most weight.
Building high quality backlinks is a difficult process, but this off-page SEO technique is as vital as any in order to create trust in your site.
While having high quality backlinks is an incredibly important SEO success factor, it is far from the only thing affecting your ranking in search. Find out what else you should do to get your site onto the first page of search engines. For further help optimizing your site, request a competitive analysis to see how you stack up to your competition and how you can be the best in your market .