No matter what products you sell or services you offer, if you have a company website—at some point—you’re going to need to talk about SEO. Most of your competitors are already doing this, and if you want to increase traffic to your site and target new users, there’s really no time like the present to start optimizing your site.
When most people think about site optimization, they tend to focus solely on long-tail keywords, meta tags, alt texts, and other foundational SEO strategies. And though these tactics are essential to improving on-page optimization and helping your site rank higher in search engines, there’s one equally important piece of the SEO puzzle that you can’t afford to ignore: backlinks.
What Are Backlinks?
A backlink is a link from one site that leads to another. Sounds simple enough, right?
Here’s a real life example: Imagine you manufacture composite materials and supplies for recreational boats. You recently wrote a “how-to” article on winterizing your boat and published it on your company blog page. A dealership that specializes in the sale of premium boat brands wrote a similar article and linked your post to it.
That right there is a backlink.
Why Are Backlinks So Important?
Backlinks are a great way to get crawled and indexed faster. They’re what Google considers “votes of confidence” (ahrefs). The more votes you have on your website, the higher you’ll rank for a specific keyword or key phrase. They also increase your site’s Page Rank value, thus improving your site’s credibility.
Think of it as a review.
Before visiting a brewery, you’ll likely check out reviews to find out whether the venue is credible and offers quality products and services. If Google is seeing more than one review (i.e. backlink) from multiple reviewers (e.g. websites), it’s going to trust that your brewery (webpage) is the best place to go.
Good vs. Bad Backlinks
Sadly, not all backlinks offer the same value as others. In fact, some links can actually harm your rankings and damage any credibility you’ve already established with search engines: “Toxic backlinks are those that typically come from low quality or suspicious websites or that are in direct violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and exist solely to try and manipulate search engine rankings” (SEMrush).
Good backlinks, in comparison, are links from trusted online sources that have Page Rank value, are relevant, or are from credible websites. The best backlinks, although hard to come by, are from .gov and .edu sites, followed by .com and .org.
This brings us to our next point: building a backlinking strategy!
A Hat Tip to Clint Eastwood
Moz expertly highlights the key differences (and dangers) between a white hat vs. a black hat backlinking strategy in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Link Building.” The cleverly titled article should instantly remind us of Clint Eastwood wearing a black cowboy hat and hand-woven poncho in the 1966 classic Spaghetti western. Though Eastwood plays the “good” as blondie, the Hollywood western troupe traditionally has the good guy wearing a white hat and the bad guy wearing a black cowboy hat.
The same is true for backlinking strategies.
White hat strategies try to stay within the protocol of the webmaster guidelines set forth by Google and Bing (the sheriffs in town). This is achieved through long-term planning, online community engagement, and outreach to other credible sources. The goal of white hat strategy is to make link building look organic and fit naturally into the context of the webpage.
An example might be to write a guest blog on another company’s website related to your industry expertise.
In comparison, black hat backlinks “… seek to exploit loopholes in the search engine algorithms and rank websites higher than they actually deserve to,” (Moz). This can include links from spammy sites or building links too fast in an unnatural way.
A good rule of thumb in SEO: if it seems quick and easy now, it will likely cost you in penalties later. Organic link building takes time, but when it’s done correctly and earned honestly, it’s well worth the effort, and you’ll start enjoying the benefits in the end.