Backlinks? What Are Those – and Why Do I Want Them?

There aren’t many positive words that begin with back.
Backlash. Backhand. Backache. Backbite. These are all unpleasant and are to be avoided whenever possible.
But, there’s one word that begins with back that is a positive and something you want (other than backpay): backlinks.
Backlinks, simply put, are the currency of search engine optimization. They help search engines figure out the most valuable pages on the Internet, which is shown to us in the form of those sweet, sweet first-page rankings.
The more backlinks you have, all other things considered equal, the higher your pages will rank.
But what are they? And do you really, really want them?

Explaining the Backlink

Everyone knows what a link is. It’s a way to connect two entities on the Internet with each other. Search engines like links because they help the engines navigate all over the Internet from one page to another.
Put another way, a link, to a search engine, shows a favorable relationship between two places online. After all, no one links to something they don’t want people to see, right? So if you link to something, you want people to be able to go there, for whatever reason.
Backlinks are links that go from someone else’s site to your site. They are a way to send traffic from some place outside of your website to one of your pages. These can come from a variety of places. Some examples include:

  • A link from a news website back to your brand’s homepage
  • A link from your Twitter profile to your bio page on your website
  • A link from someone’s Facebook post to a blog you wrote

Not all backlinks give what we call “SEO juice” – i.e. they don’t always result in SEO value. But even if they don’t, they still result in traffic, and you need both SEO value and traffic for a website to succeed.

Why You Want Those Awesome Backlinks

Backlinks are like votes, in a way. They are a way for someone to vote on your content as being worthy of being seen. Search engines use these votes to help determine what people actually want to view or read. So, if you get more backlinks, you’re getting more votes from other people saying, “Hey, this page is something you should check out.”
More votes are good. We want as many votes as possible. Just like a politician on Election Day (#NOPOLITICS), we want to be “elected” by getting a high ranking on the first page of Google or Bing. (And Yahoo too, I guess…)
Note that backlinks aren’t the only thing you need for a page to rank well. You need a lot of other stuff, like good technical on-page SEO, a strong domain, good user experience, fresh content, etc. But backlinks – and feel free to tweet this to your friends – are the single most important ranking factor known to man.
They really are the currency of SEO.
So how do we get them?

Getting Backlinks: Easier Said Than Done

Guys, I have some bad news. Getting backlinks is hard work.
It used to be really easy. Back in the day, when search engines were young, getting backlinks was ridiculously simple. You just created a bunch of websites and had them all link back to your website.
When that stopped working, because search engines are smart, you just joined a website ring that all linked to each other.
When that stopped working, you just commented on a bunch of blogs and other websites and message boards and forums and spammed your link in the comments.
I can go on and on. The point is, search engines have deliberately made it harder to get quality backlinks because of how valuable they are. If it was easy, then everyone would do it – and abuse it – and search engines wouldn’t learn anything valuable about these websites.
So, there are two questions:

  1. Can it be done?
  2. How do I do it?

The answer to the first question is: no. Just kidding. That’d defeat the entire point of this blog if the answer was no, wouldn’t it? Fortunately, the answer is yes. Yes, you can get backlinks. There are actually proven steps to how the best companies manage to pull it off. Takes work, sure, but it’s doable.
The second question is the $1 million question: how do you get good backlinks?
There are a lot of ways to go about it, but one general tip is to build content that people actually want to share. Build really good content that people will naturally want to link to. That’s the biggest single thing you can do. If you can build good content and get the word out about it, people will link to it and voila – you have backlinks.
Or, you can talk to a digital marketing agency that specializes in link-building and get them to do it for you. Just sayin’.
Just know that no SEO effort is complete without a link-building campaign. You just won’t get the full value of SEO – and those sweet, sweet rankings – without more links pointing back to your website. And if your competitors get those links, they’ll outrank you. And if they outrank you, you’ll miss out on potential customers who go to them first.
Backlinks are great. You should want as many as you can get your hands on. Later, we’ll share some of the more specific ways you can get high-quality links, but for now, understand the importance of linking when it comes to SEO and plan for incorporating link-building into your campaign.
And avoid backhands. They hurt.