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Even if you’re new to SEO, you no doubt know just how much goes into building a solid SEO foundation for any website. You need good content, a user-friendly interface, top keyword research, informative digital PR, and much, much more. All of which come together to make something Google wants to rank.

With all these vital pillars requiring a lot of careful time and consideration to grow and mould, the humble backlink might seem rather minor in comparison in relation to how something ranks in Google. But, as you’ll soon see, there’s much more to backlinks than simply offering a way for Google to reach a new site.

That being said, if you only have minimal SEO knowledge, you probably don’t know what a backlink is, never mind understanding why backlinks are important. Fortunately, backlinks are simple and easy to understand, despite their importance, as we’ll cover in this guide.

Points we’ll touch on:

  • What is backlinking in SEO?
  • How does backlinking work?
  • How important are backlinks for SEO?
  • How to do link building for SEO
  • Usable link-building strategies
  • Avoiding ‘toxic’ links

So, strap your SEO cap on and get a pen ready, we’re going to explain exactly what backlinks are, why backlinks are important for SEO, and how you can start link building today to get your content ranking on Google!

What is backlinking in SEO?

In today’s constantly changing online world, the quality, relevance, and authenticity of online content is more important than ever. These three things are necessary for any content to rank, and they’re what make backlinks a viable and important strategy for driving organic content.

So, just what is a backlink?

Simply put, a backlink is where the URL for a particular piece of content or website is included as a hyperlink on a website that isn’t yours. As links are fundamental to navigating the web, this lets users find your content outside of your website thanks to a link that sends them back to you, hence the name backlink.

There are plenty of different types of backlinks out there that you can use, but in most cases, they’re created organically by journalists, influencers, bloggers, and anyone else who finds your content useful and interesting and wants to share it with others.

Making use of backlinks is necessary to compete in any industry with an online presence and have been a cornerstone of the Google algorithm since the 90s. And with that in mind, let’s take a closer look at how backlinks work in relation to SEO.

How does backlinking work?

If you’ve read our beginner’s guide to how search engines work, you’ll know that the primary way search engines find and store new information to be ranked is by crawling the web using links around and between websites.

Links take users to different pages, so by following the links on a page, Google can assess where a link goes, how good the information on this new page is, and whether or not it’s worth storing to be ranked in later search results.

But it’s not just content that Google considers when assessing pages. It also accounts for the number of links pointing to your page from other websites, if the sites providing the links are of good quality themselves, and if they give your page authority. All of these blend together to help you rank higher on the results page.

Essentially, backlinking means that Google isn’t just finding you through your own content, but from different sources, making it easier to find you, rank your content, and ultimately build your brand; and all it takes is a simple hyperlink from one caring soul on the internet.

How important are backlinks for SEO?

Now that you know what a backlink is, it’s time to turn to the question, “why is link building important for SEO?”.

Put bluntly, backlinks are one of the key ways you can drive that all-important search engine traffic to your site. Especially organic traffic. Without link building, it will take your content much longer to establish the kind of authority that makes Google want to rank it higher in search results.

Consistent and good-quality links show users that your content is valuable and worth their time, enhancing your brand and building trust between you and them. They show off your expertise and can eventually make you a leading figure in a particular niche or industry.

And, of course, they mean Google can crawl to your site from others, making you more prevalent in its crawls and getting your page indexed properly. In other words, an important page not being backlinked is hurting you more than you might think.

So, how important are backlinks? Very!

How to do link building for SEO

While gaining as many quality backlinks as possible is a big necessity for SEO, when it comes to actually getting links, the process is not as clear-cut as you might think.

In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for people to buy and trade links, or simply create a single page filled with links to your site, in a bid to fool Google into believing their content was of authoritative quality when it really wasn’t.

Nowadays, Google is far too smart to be fooled by such methods, either ignoring poor links or penalising your ranking for being over-optimised. Instead, to get links today, you need to focus on creating quality content that is relevant to users and worthy of being considered ranked by Google.

Usable link-building strategies

When it comes to getting links, more often than not, you’ll need to wait for them to build up naturally on their own or ask for links from those who might find your content interesting.

These two types of link-building strategies are known as passive and active link building, and we’re going to run through what they involve so you can start using them straight away in your work.

Passive link building

The first type of link building focuses on accruing links naturally over time. These are links that you don’t ask for and will usually make up the vast majority of links you gain. They tend to be generated over time thanks to good content that people want to share.

This content can be something you’ve created specifically for your brand or as a replacement for content that no longer exists, allowing you to solve the problem associated with broken links and displaying your content as the piece that Google wants to refer to most.

We’ve said it multiple times before, but we’re going to say it again one more time to knock it home. Creating and spreading good quality content is the number one way to get yourself noticed by Google, and like a symbiotic relationship, earns you backlinks.

For more info on how to create quality SEO content, be sure to read our beginner’s guide on writing SEO content.

Active link building

Active link building is much more direct, as the name suggests, and involves building relationships with other people in your industry, so you eventually get organic links. This means asking for links from people who would find your content interesting.

These links could be from journalists, bloggers, influencers, etc… who might be interested in your content and willing to link to it in their own work. Of course, your content must be deemed link-worthy to actually get links to begin with. This is the most direct way to get links and tends to be a key part of digital PR strategy.

Digital PR actually looks at combining passive and active link building together to create linkable assets for publications that might be interested in your content. This obviously has to be something relevant that publications want to link to, though, rather than something wholly irrelevant to them.

The content used in digital PR can be anything from a data-driven study to a detailed long-form guide, and the addition of good infographics or visuals alongside these never hurt either.

With a good piece of PR content directed toward those that’ll find it useful, people will want to cite it as a source, making it easier to ask them for links when they discuss the topic your content focuses on because they’re already interested in it.

Additional linking building strategies

Of course, you don’t have to only appeal directly to people when making new content. If you find previous content you’ve made being referenced elsewhere without a link, it never hurts to reach out and ask for a link to be put in seen as they’re already mentioning you.

You can even do this if you find people using your own image. Instead of asking them to take it down, you can ask them to link you instead, allowing you to benefit from their use.

Last, but by no means least, you can carry out something called link gap analysis, where you reach out to sites already citing your competitors and ask them to cite you as well.

You will, of course, need a good reason for them to cite you, but if they have linked to multiple different people in your industry already, then the odds of them linking you are high.

One other active link-building strategy you can pursue is outreach. This isn’t so much asking for links as promoting something someone else has already done by linking them from your website content. This puts you on their radar, and in theory, will result in you getting a link back.

This is a good strategy to employ when reaching out to influencers and can help you build long relationships for links in the future through mutual trust and good content. You get an advocate for your business through influencers, journalists, and writers, more of whom might contact you asking for your help in the future.

Ultimately, links tend to come naturally as a by-product of not trying to get links; it’s a bit of an oxymoron situation. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do more to speed the process along.

Things like good content, an exceptional PR campaign, or a new product launch are all designed to promote something else rather than gather links, which in turn actually generates backlinks.

Avoiding ‘toxic’ links

One very important thing to note when looking at backlinks is that not all links are as valuable as others. The only links you ever want to be associated with are those of good quality from reputable sites, not any link under the metaphorical sun.

Too many ‘toxic’ links will ultimately devalue your content in the eyes of Google, meaning it will rank you lower on the results page. This might seem unfair, as these links are outside of your control, which is why Google has implemented a method to get around them known as disavowing.

When you find sites that have links to your content but aren’t sites you want linking to you, you can use the Google Search Console to tell Google not to consider these links when ranking your page.

Backlinks are a prevalent and important part of SEO, one of which you hopefully now have a much greater understanding of. Of course, this is still a surface-level exploration of the topic, and there’s much more to learn about backlinks and their role in SEO, content, and digital PR.

And if you found this guide useful, be sure to check out some of the other guides here on the c3 blog, including our beginner’s guide to working in PR and our detailed article on what is content writing?

To learn even more about what we do here at c3, including the various services we offer and any current roles we have available, don’t forget to get in touch with our team. Together, we’ll help you start your digital agency journey or take your business to the next level.