business owners you're probably not a search engine optimization jedi and might be wasting some valuable time, or money building useless website links.
What is a backlink?
Backlinks are simply links to your website, from another website. For example, if you want to know the technical reason why backlinks are important you might want to explore the link to the wiki page here (that's a backlink to wikipedia). Think of a link to your website as a "vote" from the Internet that your content is valuable. Search engines pay attention to those "votes" to help index websites, generally the more links the more relevant your website is...right?. Not always... sometimes it can have the opposite effect if abused. The importance of backlinks has somewhat been reduced over time as search engines have altered their algorithm... unfortunately spammers learned early on ways to manipulate the rankings of their website by building junk links from spam websites or link farms. This article is intended to give those new, or fairly new to Search Engine Optimization a high level overview of linking. BEWARE: A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing, overuse of backlinking can get your website penalized or blacklisted. This article is one page in an encyclopedia of knowledge about search engine optimization.
To begin you should know that some links are more valuable based on the website that is linking to you... this can be determined by examining the Domain & Page Authority.
Determining Website Authority
Google launched their Penguin algorithm update in 2012, and made it clear that websites that have low content and numerous low quality backlinks will be penalized in the form of lower rankings. So how do you know which websites to try to get a link from? First you need a tool that can help determine the link value that a given website would provide to you. I personally use and prefer Open Site Explorer by Moz, which you can use 3 times a day for free. Just type in a website address and take a look at the report, (pictured below). I'd recommend that you start by researching the website URLs that appear on page 1 for the search term or phrase you are targeting. For instance, if you want to appear for "Upland family therapist", examine the competitor websites that are already on page 1 for that search. It stands to reason that you can start by trying to duplicate their ranking by acquiring links from the websites that they've received links from. Generally, as my personal preference, you'll want to target link acquisition from websites that have a domain authority of 70 or higher. If most of your links you acquire are from websites with a domain authority of 20 or less, you may be a target of the Penguin update because your website may be perceived as low authority, or worse... a website that is trying to manipulate rankings by acquiring links unnaturally.
This report gives you a road map of where to try to acquire links from. Furthermore, if you click on the + symbol under "Linking Root Domains" in the report, it will reveal the page that you can click to which actually shows the established link. This gives you some context as to how the link was established, (business profile, content, paid ad Etc). So the next time you see an ad proclaiming "500 PR9 backlinks for $59.99!", understand that you are playing with fire and the days of buying your way to page 1 of Google are over. Good quality content and high authority, natural links are the only safe solution to high rankings.
The "anchor text" of a backlink is the actual text that links to your website. Search engines read anchor text so that they can learn & associate relevant keywords with your website. Here's a quick test to illustrate the importance of anchor text: Google the word "here". You should see that Adobe Reader is the #1 organic result, yet the word "here" is not in the website's title tags, meta description or even in the website content! How can a website be indexed #1 for a word that doesn't appear anywhere on the page? The reason is anchor text. Adobe and other websites have published content on so many webpages that link to the Adobe website with the actual link residing on the word "here". It looks something like this: "You need the latest version of Adobe reader to view this content, click here to download". If you can establish a link on a high authority website that is good, if you can get relevant keyword rich anchor text it's even better. BUT WAIT!!! Spammers helped screw this up too. If Google sees an unnatural amount of links to your website with the same key word or phrase in the anchor text, your website may be punished because you've over optimized.
Follow vs. NoFollow Links
In the world of backlinks there are 2 main types, Follow and NoFollow links. Follow links are the most prized and carry "SEO juice" because they instruct search engine spiders to follow the link on the page to the destination website. As you'd guess, NoFollow links instruct spiders not to follow the backlink to the destination website. They still hold value to provide your website with some referral traffic, but generally don't pass pagerank as a Follow link would. How can you determine if a website has Follow or NoFollow links? Unfortunately it's not as easy as looking at the website, hyperlinks look the same on a page whether they are Follow or NoFollow. You could right click on the page, click "view page source" and examine the html, or you can take the easy way out and use FireFox as your browser and install a free plugin called NoDoFollow. As shown below NoDoFollow highlights the links on a page according to Follow (blue), or NoFollow (red).
So why do NoFollow links even exist, shouldn't all websites just put Follow links on every page of their website? Well there are many reasons a webmaster would want to avoid putting Follow links on their website.
Also, purely as a business decision, many directory websites won't issue a Follow link on your profile until you become a paying advertiser.
I hope that this was good information presented in an easy to digest manner. If anything it should help guide you on the types and styles of backlinks. The strategy of obtaining backlinks, however, is a whole different topic. I should also remind you that this article is a high level overview, doing too much of any activity in SEO can result in a negative impact on your rankings as algorithm changes occur everyday.
Please add comments or questions below, (NoFollow of course), and feel free to contact me if you need assistance.
Experienced SEO professional and business consultant.