What are Backlinks?

What are backlinks? Why do you need them? Here is everything you need to know about backlinks, what quality backlinks look like and what to avoid.

A backlink is a link on another website that directs visitors to yours. Consider it a professional recommendation. If another website recommends your page, they must believe it’s worth linking to or referencing.

How Backlinks Work


Google assigns a score to pages based on their relevance and link popularity, as well as their expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T Score).

To rank a page highly, Google has to know that other people think the information is worthwhile, and it does so by looking at how many people link to your website, among other things.

If a lot of individuals are referring their readers to you, you’re “worthy of amplification.”

To boost your site’s position in search results, it’s important to evaluate backlinks and build a procedure for attracting them from high authority sites.

In short, you need backlinks.


It’s also worth noting that there are several types of backlinks, and not all of them pass the same value.

For example, a backlink from a national news website would pass more value than a local news site, as they, in turn, would be referenced more.

Backlink Authority


Backlinks from your field are also important; for example, if you have a tech website, backlinks from tech blog posts are preferable to backlinks from cuisine blog posts. The type of sites that link to your site, help Google understand what industry you are in.


Everyone working in SEO knows the power of backlinks, and Google knows we know.

According to all of the narratives from Google officials, users should not buy or manipulate backlinks. As a matter of fact, Google is training its algorithms to detect purchased links.

In 2012, Penguin , a Google webspam algorithm created to tackle shady backlinking practises was released, and the world of SEO was forever transformed. Penguin penalised websites for purchasing backlinks and trying to game the system. Some websites were wiped off the face of Google’s search results.

Prior to the Penguin algorithm, a webpages’ backlink volume (the number of backlinks a page has) had a bigger role in determining its Page Rank score.

This meant that when these metrics were used to rank websites for search results pages, low-quality websites appeared more prominent than perhaps they should have. Leading to poor search results for the query and unhappy users.

After all, Google’s primary goal is to display the most relevant content to the query inputted in Search. It’s easy to see why people manipulating Googles search was such a thorn in its side: if Google can’t display the most relevant and engaging information to a user’s query, another search engine might just take their place.

The goal of the algorithm was to have more control over a multitude of ‘Black Hat‘ spamming techniques and minimise their efficacy.

Penguin attempted to ensure that authoritative, relevant and natural links rewarded the websites they linked to, while spammy links demoted the websites they linked to. It did this by better understanding and processing the types of backlinks and domains that webmasters were exploiting.

Penguin was only concerned with the incoming links to a website.

Google Penguin only looked at links and anchor text that point to the site in question and ignores any links that point away from it.

A bit like Schrodinger’s cat, Google Penguin is both dead and alive. It became part of the core algorithm on September 23, 2016, which means it now updates in real-time.

As a result, Google will no longer make any announcements about future upgrades.


The clickable words used to link one online page to another are referred to as anchor text. This is an example – Byte Digital.

External anchor text is used by Google to determine what your page is about and which keywords it should rank for.

What evidence do we have for this?

An excerpt from the original paper that the Google algorithm is built on is as follows:

Google employs a number of techniques to improve search quality including Page Rank, anchor text, and proximity information.

So, if I linked to a page from this post with the anchor word “SEO,” Google would presume that the connected page has something to do with SEO.

If enough others do the same, Google will be more confident that the page in question should be able to rank for “SEO”.

After all, if the page has nothing to do with SEO, what are the possibilities of multiple unrelated websites referring to the same web page with the same anchor text? I’d think it’s rather slim.

However, here’s the rub; Google’s early over-reliance on anchor text as a ranking signal meant that many websites were able to game the system and Google quickly discovered that anchor text was extremely vulnerable to manipulation.

People merely need to point several links at a web page with their desired term as the anchor to rank it for a query.

Again, Penguin penalised websites for using this SEO exact match anchor technique.

So should you use exact-match anchors as little as possible? Should you stay away from exact-match anchors entirely?

Getting a natural link to your page with the exact match keyword as the anchor text is quite rare unless it’s your brand keywords (eg. “Byte Digital“).

With almost all legitimate white-hat link-building tactics, you have no influence over the anchor text utilised.

In fact, the one method that comes to mind where you get to choose the anchor text of your links is guest blogging—and you should probably use branded keywords there for anchor text.

I like to keep things on the safe side and try not to manipulate anchor text too much.


Links containing the rel=”nofollow” HTML tag are referred to as nofollow links.

The only code difference is that the snippet of code that wraps the link has rel=”nofollow” inserted into it.

This is a follow link;

   <a href="https://bytedigital.io" rel=”nofollow”>Byte Digital</a>

This is a nofollow link;

   <a href="https://bytedigital.io">Byte Digital</a>

The nofollow element instructs search engines to disregard that particular link.

Nofollow links do not transfer PageRank, hence they are unlikely to have an effect on search engine results.

A nofollow link has a nofollow tag, which is the sole technical distinction between the two.

Follow links are links that push SEO link juice/Page Rank/ authority/ insert meme here and raise the Page Rank of the linked-to site, allowing them to rank higher in search.

Nofollow links don’t pass any link juice to the linked-to-site… or does it.

Recent publications suggest that nofollow links are actually used by Google as a ranking factor, so just because a link is nofollow, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any value.

A pages backlink profile would look very suspicious if it didn’t have any nofollow links going to it. After all, the majority of links throughout the web are nofollow (Reddit, Twitch, YouTube, Quora).

This means Google has to count these links and probably assign a value to them.

What’s the consensus?

There appears to be some SEO merit in nofollow links… Especially if the links come from sites that are relevant to yours.

In its algorithm, Google may use anchor text from nofollow links.


What do quality backlinks look like?

It’ll be tempting to gain as many backlinks as possible once your site is ready.

The quality of your backlinks, though, is more important than the quantity.

In fact, instead of benefiting your organic traffic, Penguin could judge your backlinks as spammy and could penalise your site in search.

These factors should help you determine a good backlink:

1. Relevance

Some options for backlinks will be ideal for you.

These are the links that lead to your product or service from pages that are directly relevant to it.

If your company makes fitness equipment, like Perium Fitness , for example, you’d welcome a backlink from a product review site that caters to gym equipment or a fitness magazine.

However, there won’t be many perfect matches, so keep an eye out for backlinks that are related to what you do.

2. Location

If you’re looking for backlinks for an entirely e-commerce site, geo-targeting isn’t going to help you much.

If you have a physical location or provide in-person services, however, the most relevant backlinks will be from those sites that are both related to your business and local.

Those that are either subject-relevant or regionally targeted come in second.

3. Link quality

Stay away from low-quality sites or sites that seem spammy. Read a few pages and see if the content is well written or has been spun from other articles. As noted above, Google can penalise sites that try to game the system and purchase links from PBN’s and link farms.

One link from a high authority website is worth more than 100’s from a spammy site.

4. Authority

Google employs algorithms to determine the authority of a website.

The business used to share the results of its PageRank algorithm, but it ceased doing so a few years ago.

Now the only method to determine a page’s authority rating is by using a third-party tool like Ahrefs or Open Site Explorer .

Because none of the current tools are perfectly aligned with Google, it’s ideal to utilise more than one and get an overall feel.

5. Editorial standards

A backlink from a site that is picky about the backlinks it offers will give you more credibility.

Look for websites that adhere to strict editorial guidelines and have well-written articles.


You won’t get much traffic from some backlinks.

Others are downright dangerous.

When looking for backlink prospects, keep these red signs in mind, as well as Google’s webmaster rules, which include quality criteria.

Consider that Google may penalise sites that buy or exchange links to artificially boost their ranks, which is why link analysis is so crucial.

PBN’s Public link networks

In exchange for a fee from the link’s owner, the network will establish an outbound link on its site.

Yes, it’s a link, but it’s one that could result in a penalty.

These networks irritate Google since they do not add value to the reader and a solely created to sell backlinks.

They contain a lot of unrelated links on their home pages and very little, normally poorly written information.

When Google discovers these networks—which it frequently does, either as a result of a complaint or because they see that they’re attempting to manipulate search results they can de-index them.

The authors of the links can also be penalised by Google, so don’t think that losing the backlink is the worst that can happen.

Automated link building

There are software packages available that profit from your need for backlinks.

SENuke and Ultimate Demon are two webapps that will get your link on as many sites as possible, but they do not discriminate.

They’ll use your link out of context on any site that will accept it, which is a certain method to receive a new penalty.

Purchased comments

Leaving comments on other people’s blogs was a popular practice prior to 2012 (Penguin).

I doubt there is much value to be found in blog comments these days.

Even if there were value it would be only for relevant comments on connected blogs, excluding the vast majority of paid comments.

They’re frequently irrelevant, and they mix your backlink in with a slew of others, many of which point to shady websites.

Your website could get caught up in that shady neighbourhood and be associated with them.


When it comes to ranking in Google, backlinks are crucial.

However, are not all backlinks are made equal. The quality and value of a link are determined by its relevance, placement, anchor text and other factors.

Normally as a general principle, the easier it is to obtain a link, the lower value it has.

We like to play it safe and follow Google’s Guidance to backlinks, with only a little rule-breaking here and there.

Do you need help with backlinks? Contact us to see if we can help.


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Posted by Gareth Allen

Over the past 20 years, I have worked on magazine/newspaper design & pre-press production, advertising, POS, DM, brand creation and guardian. I'm a front end-digital designer (html/css), SEO & SEM with a passion for digital marketing.