What is a Backlink and Why Should I Care? Part 2

Last month we talked about what is a backlink, covering both internal and external links, and closed with the question, “Why should I care?”  Well, you should care for two main reasons: backlinks transfer influence in the form of page rank and they can drive referral traffic to your site.


Influence is affected because search engines look at the quantity and quality of the backlinks to your site to help determine just how popular and trustworthy your website is. The Web is interconnected by backlinks. Evaluating those connections — their relevance and influence is the bread and butter of the search engines and plays heavily into algorithms which determine rank or position of results on a search page.

 Now backlinks are not the only factor that helps determine a page’s success in search; search engines also look at the quality and quantity of your content, use of keywords, and even social signals, etc.  But as search engines crawl the web following links, the links which they find (or don’t find) pointing back to your site play a major role in determining your position.  Analyzing the top ranked sites for your core keywords can provide a glimpse of what kind of competition you face – but remember, it’s not just a numbers game. Not all links are equal.

Kinds of backlinks

When it comes to external backlinks, there are links from authority and non-authority sites and links from relevant and non-relevant sites.  Authority sites are popular websites that have high influence and generally rank in the top of the search engine results.  These sites often have domains with a long history and have high influence and high traffic. Non-authority sites are less popular and rank lower in the results pages.  Relevant sites are those whose content are similar to your own or are somehow related to your niche.

Following this logic then, the strongest backlinks are from:

  • authority websites with relevant content
  • non-authority website with relevant content
  • authority website outside your niche (but hopefully still in front of your target audience)

In today’s link building climate, diversity is key. Make efforts to attract links from different types of sites (blogs, PR and news, how-to or wikis, directories, social, organization or industry sites). Consider creating different types of content to appeal to these different publishers.

Previously, we discussed the difference between internal and external backlinks.  Know that internal links are important as they help the search engines crawl your site and help them determine just what your site is about and what content is contained on your pages by providing clear roadmaps to follow.  But for influence and page ranking, this discussion is really about external backlinks.

Dofollow and Nofollow

A quick word on “dofollow” and “nofollow” backlinks: the “nofollow” attribute was created to give a website the ability to link to another page without passing on their influence.  So websites use “dofollow” links to transfer some of their influence to the linked page, but they use the “nofollow” attribute as a way to provide a link for their audience without endorsing the linked site.

The benefit of “dofollow” links is obvious – they pass on influence and so help with search engine rankings.  The benefit of “nofollow” links however, is the subject of debate. “Nofollow” is commonly applied to links in blog comments and social media posts. And while it makes sense that “nofollow” links may not raise your site’s authority, there can be no denying that a link, any link, can drive traffic to your site.  And traffic, whether due to high search rankings or whether from a “nofollow” link, is the name of the game. Today’s search marketing practices also call for maintaining a very natural looking profile of links — having some nofollow links to your site is a natural occurrence so don’t avoid a link simply because of its nofollow status.

How Do I Measure Backlink Growth?

Calculating your success at attracting or acquiring links can be measured with a number of metrics. You can check your site or your page’s authority using tools such Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO or even Google Webmaster Tools. Watch these numbers for trends, but be aware that these tools are not always current and they can’t capture all your links. Think of it as a snapshot of your influence.

Another metric is growth of your referral traffic. Backlinks on sites which are high quality will acquire traffic. A link from one of these sites should provide traffic to your site providing your link is relevant to the linking site’s audience. Whether this traffic converts on your site is a measurement of whether your link building efforts are resonating with your intended audience.