What is a back link? If you have ever worked on your own blog or website, then you are probably familiar with the term. However, with all of the buzz around SEO (search engine optimization), back links have taken on a somewhat esoteric and confusing tone.
In this post, I want to explore what back link are, what they do, and how to build them.
What is a back link?
A back link is essentially an incoming link that points back to your website or blog. For example, if Mary’s blog publishes a post containing a link back to your blog, that is a back link. If you leave a comment on Joe’s blog and include your web address, then that is also a back link.
Back links are not all created equally; some have more importance for the search engines than others. Some search engines such as Google place importance on the page rank of the page linking to yours. For example, if Mary’s blog has a high page rank, and Joe’s blog has a low page rank, then a link from Mary’s blog to your blog will benefit you a lot more in respect to search engine rankings than will a link from Joe’s blog to your blog. Page rank is a form of status and reputation in the eyes of the search engines.
Some blogs and websites also put a rel=”nofollow” attribute into their link. When a link points back to your website with rel=”nofollow”, the webmaster is essentially telling the search engines “I don’t want to confer my status and reputation to this guy that I’m linking. I’d rather you don’t follow this link and bless it with my page rank. I am placing the link here for the benefit of my readers, only.”
Most blogs set their comment links to nofollow in order to reduce the incentive of spammers to spam their blogs with links. Although the links are nofollowed, a reader of the blog can still click on the link and visit the commentator’s website.
Why are back links important?
When someone adds a link back to your site, it is essentially a vote of confidence in your site. Not only does a back link to your site add the reputation and authority of their own site to yours, but that reputation is then passed forward in any outgoing links that you create. Back links can improve your ranking in the search engine results pages (SERPs), increasing your search engine traffic. Readers can discover your site through links on other sites, increasing your daily visitors. When someone links back to your site, they are vouching for your site, and placing the strength of their own page rank behind that.
What is the difference between an incoming link (a back link) and an outgoing link?
It is important to understand the difference between an incoming link and an outgoing link. When someone else links to your site, that is an incoming link, otherwise known as a back link. When you link to someone else, that is an outgoing link, and is NOT a back link as far as you are concerned.
When you decide to link to another site, you are in essence making a vote of confidence for that website, and telling the search engines that you would like to place the strength of your reputation and status into that vote. You should therefore be careful of which websites you link to, the same as you would be careful when referring a business associate to another associate, since your reputation is associated with the reference.
I recently received a guest post request via email which included two links to a mortgage loan website. The request included the following statement:
“Here is the article that I wrote for your website. Hopefully this article will transition into a great guest post and will help maximize your web site optimization. I included three back links but only 2 are linked back to <CORPORATE NAME REMOVED> and one is linked to the government loan options which I though would help diversify your authoritative links.”
The author has made several claims here:
- The article contains several back links.
- These backlinks will help me diversify my authoritative links.
- This article will help me maximize my web site optimization.
Points 2 and 3 can be interpreted in a certain way, but if we read them in the context of point 1, then they are disputable, since point 1 is itself disputable. If we look at our prior definition of incoming and outgoing links, then it should be clear that if I publish a guest post containing links to other websites, then these links are clearly not back links, as far as I am concerned. Instead of my website benefiting from a reputation boost, I am instead linking my own reputation with the linked websites! This is good for the linked website, but might not necessarily be good for me.
Could you imagine how it looks to a colleague if you refer a shady business associate to them? You are doing the same thing when you link to a less than reputable website on your website or blog.
I can only conclude that the article submitter was confused on the difference between an incoming link and an outgoing link, and that’s only if I proscribe to him the very best intentions!
More about back links
One question you might be asking is “what if a less than reputable website links to me? Does that hurt my website?” The answer here is, “It depends.” Some people use shady directory submission programs which submit their website to thousands of less-than-reputable websites simultaneously. In general, the search engines try to keep things so that your website cannot be hurt by the intentions of others, but having thousands of spammy links leading back to your website surely cannot be a good thing, either.
A second consideration is, “what if I want to include a link, but I don’t want to confer my reputation onto the link?” In that case, you might consider adding a rel=”nofollow” attribute to the link. Such a link would look like this:
<a href="http://unknown.com" rel="nofollow">Nofollowed link here</a>
Different search engines treat the link differently, so you might still be inadvertently helping out the website, but this attribute otherwise serves as a signal to the search engines to prevent page rank from being passed on to the outgoing link.
How do I go about building quality back links?
In my humble opinion, the best way to go about building high quality back links is to write stuff worth linking to, and to be selfless in your promotion of others. When you write articles out of the passions of your creativity, they will come across as honest and others will be interested in reading them. When you comment on other blogs and when you link to other blogs, you are giving them a vote of confidence and giving them a reason to come back and check out your website. I am part of the Yakezie challenge, which is a great example of what the power of community and selfless promotion can achieve.
Further Yakezie reading
- Early Retirement Extreme: Your source of everyday inspiration, gah!
- Financial Samurai: Samurai’s Alexa Ranking Challenge Update: Progress Through Adversity
- Planting Dollars: How I Went From no Blog to 122,661 on Alexa in 2 months.
So, reader, what do you think about the importance of back links, and of search engine optimization in general? I’m always looking forward to hearing your thoughts.