What is a Backlink? Basic Guide for Beginners

Backlinks are one of the most important SEO ranking factors you need to pay attention to if you want to increase your site traffic from Google. 

This was even “officially” confirmed by Google in 2016: along with content, backlinks are one of the two strong signals used to rank websites.

But if you’re new to SEO, or you’re running your own business and trying to increase your traffic.

You’re probably not quite sure what backlinks are and why they’re so important. 

Keep reading this article, we will share with you everything you need to know on the subject!

Understanding Backlinks & Their Role in Your Strategy

Also called in the field of SEO “incoming links” or “external links”.

Backlinks are links that point from one page of a site to a page of another site. 

These are the links from third-party sources that point to your site.

As opposed to internal links that exist between two pages inside your site.


If you want your site to be successful in SEO, you need to pay attention to links.

Since Google and other search engines use them to gauge a page’s authority. 

Think of backlinks like a site’s online reputation, where a link from site A to site B is considered a vote of confidence.

If five people who don’t know each other all recommend the same restaurant as the best in town.

You’ll tend to think you’ll eat well there since different individuals have vouched for it.


This is how Google sees backlinks, as votes establishing the popularity of a site or web page. 

And there is a strong correlation between a significant number of backlinks and higher search engine rankings.

Any link from someone else’s site to your site (or any other site) is a backlink. 

But you will soon learn that not all backlinks are created equal. 

Just as you rely more on a recommendation from someone you respect rather than someone you’ve never seen.

Google relies more on backlinks from trusted and authoritative sites than from those that are less reliable or unknown.

This trust is materialized by PageRank.

A Google algorithm evaluates the quality and quantity of backlinks pointing to a page to determine a relative score defining the importance and authority of this page.

Types of backlinks

We have already alluded to the fact that backlinks are not all the same. 

Below are the different types of backlinks you need to know and understand.

Nofollow Links 

We’ve already said that links are like votes to establish trustworthy resources.

But what if you don’t want to vouch for a site, but still want to point to it? 

Nofollow links use the rel=”no-follow” attribute to inform Google and other search engines that they should not pass their trust (PageRank) to the target site. 

Knowing that no-follow links do not transmit PageRank, they will not help you rank higher on the SERPs. 

Nevertheless, Google announced in September 2019 that it had evolved the no-follow attribute.

Saying that “when no-follow was introduced, Google did not consider a link so marked as a signal to use in its search algorithms. 

That has now changed. 

All link attributes are treated as clues as to which links to consider or exclude in Search”.

Some people believe that this change should be seen as a sign that Google will convey trust through no-follow links in certain cases.

Such as when a respected news platform adds the sitewide attribute.

DoFollow Links 

Quite simply, a do-follow link passes trust (PageRank) and therefore has no no-follow attribute.

Note that there is no “follow” attribute, and “do-follow” backlinks are normal backlinks.

Sponsored or Paid Links 

Sometimes you can pay a blogger or influencer to promote content or post a review for one of your products. 

If money, or a product or service, has changed hands in exchange for a link.

A rel=” sponsored’ attribute should be added to let Google know.

A word of warning: giving money or offering something in exchange for a follow link to your site from another site is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and may negatively impact the ranking of a site in the search results.

The rel=” sponsored’ attribute prevents your site from being negatively impacted by these links. 

UGC Links

Using a new attribute released in 2019.

User Generated Content (UGC) links are those that come from forums and blog comments, and other such places. 

The attribute informs Google that the link was placed by a user and not by the webmaster.

Authority Links

You may be recommended to seek to build authority backlinks to your site to help it rank better. 

Remember how we said that not all links are created equal and Google’s algorithm favors those it trusts more?

Authority backlinks are those that come from trusted sources.

Such as a newspaper (it’s normal for Google to trust a New York Times link, right?) or a well-established site that occupies a position of trust.

Sure, the way Google assesses authority is through its PageRank algorithm.

But that’s no longer a public-facing metric since they stopped updating, and then retired, their PageRank toolbar in 2016.

However, when evaluating whether a link is quality or not, consider factors like credibility and whether the site is sharing quality and valuable content for users.

While there are various metrics used by software platforms.

They are not used or endorsed by Google and are only an indication of domain authority. 

As a simple measure of authority, ask yourself if you would trust the endorsement of a site or publication.

Toxic (or artificial) Links

Bad links can hurt your site’s ability to rank on Google and can even negatively affect the rankings you already have. 

“Bad” links are often called toxic or artificial.

Toxic backlinks are typically those that come from suspicious or low-quality sites.

Or that directly violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and exists only to manipulate search engine rankings. 

These can be paid links that are not marked with no-follow or sponsored attributes.

Links that come from low-quality directories or bookmark sites.

Heavily used links in footers, or an artificial number of links using the exact same anchor text.

You’ll learn more about auditing your backlinks and identifying potentially toxic or artificial links here

This tool helps you analyze and get rid of all the toxic links pointing to your domain that can lower your rankings. 

And by connecting your Google Search Console account.

You’ll get a comprehensive view of the overall health of your backlink profile before you take the time to check each one.

Once the analysis is complete.

You can choose a number of actions, such as generating a Disavow list and submitting it to the Google Disavow tool.

Leaving links in your “Remove” list if you want to contact the sites manually, asking deletion, or simply whitelist links if you know they are safe.

If you need to clean up your toxic links and request removals, you can do so directly in the Backlink Audit tool.

Editorial Links

Google rewards links that are editorial or endorsed by the site owner, giving them the most authority. 

An editorial link is one where a journalist or webmaster has made the decision to point to another site or page because he/she deserves traffic and authority. 

The purpose of this link is to improve the reader’s experience, not to manipulate search engine algorithms.

Why are Backlinks Important?

We talk a lot about backlinks, and there is no denying that they are an important area that we must seek to improve. 

But why?

They will Help You Rank Better

You probably already know this.

Backlinks help you rank better on Google and other search engines. 

Without good backlinks pointing to your site, you are missing out on one of the most important ranking factors. 

Backlinks emphasize that you are a trusted authority in your industry, and therefore deserve to rank well for key search terms.

Moreover, a study by Backlinko showed that there was a relationship between a high number of backlinks and high rankings on Google.

In order for links to help you rank better, you need to focus on getting quality links. 

You should avoid those that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, such as these types of links designed to manipulate search results.

Follow the tactics we’re going to share to make sure you get your links in the right place.

So you don’t have to worry about it!

There is Only One Way for Google to Find New Pages

Google Spiders (or Googlebot) use links to find new pages on the web.

This is one of the main ways of discovering, exploring, and indexing content. 

Links are how Google navigates the web. 

A link from a reputable source will help your content get indexed faster by Google, which means it should also rank faster.

They Boost Your Reliability and Credibility

The right links from trusted, authoritative sources help you rank higher from an SEO perspective, but they can also help boost your trustworthiness and credibility as a business. 

Let’s say you are a tech start-up. 

There’s a good chance that quite a few people know about your business (yet).

So if you manage to get some media coverage and a link from TechCrunch, you’ll receive a healthy dose of credibility. 

If you then continue to get links from The World, TechRadar, and Wired, you’ll have serious, authoritative sources in the industry talking about you and sending traffic to your site. 

Even ignoring SEO value, having reporters and editors on key publications in your industry choosing to point to you goes a long way in getting the word out about your business.

And it is worth its weight in gold.

They Send Referral Traffic to Your Page

When the web was launched, links were navigational only. 

The purpose of links, in their simplest form, is to take web browsers from Page A to Page B.

Not just within a site, but also between different sites. 

Even though links are used as a ranking factor by Google today.

The principle that good links send high-value traffic to your site has not changed.

Going back to the example above, relevant press coverage can (and will) send interested readers to your site. 

This introduces your brand to new audiences, who may become customers. 

You also have the option of adding this traffic to a remarketing list to be targeted by paid media channels.

So that your referral traffic is even more effective.

Don’t overlook potential link traffic. 

A really good way to determine if a link has value is to ask if it can bring traffic from your key target audience.

How to Check the Backlinks of Your Site?

Whether you want to plan a link-building campaign and look at tactics you could use to acquire more good links to your site.

And want to see how your competitors are performing from a link perspective.

Or do just want to compare yourself with those who are competing with you for search engine rankings?

You need to know how to check your backlinks and see what your link profile looks like.

There are a number of different tools you can use to get a good overview of your own link profile and those of your competitors. 

You can do this with Google Search Console.

Use Google Search Console to Understand Your Link Profile

Google Search Console gives you information to understand what your link profile looks like, but it won’t tell you anything about your competitors. 

That said, it’s a free tool, and you definitely need to know what links Google sees pointing to your site.

Although the information you can acquire it is somewhat limited compared to other tools.

First, go to Google Search Console and log in. 

Using the menu on the left, go to Old Tools and Reports > Links

You should then get an overview of your site’s backlink profile under the heading “External Links”.

Here you will find information on:

  • External links – How many external links point to your site?
  • Top landing pages  – The pages on your site that have the most backlinks pointing to them.
  • Top Domains Referring to Your Site – The websites that link to yours the most times.
  • Main anchor texts – Link anchor texts used for external links.

You can also export your site’s external links to a CSV file in the top right.

Use SEMrush to Analyze Your Own Backlink Profile and Those of Your Competitors

While the Google Search Console is a good way to understand some elements of your own link profile.

If you want to use backlink information to build good links and identify the tactics your competitors are using.

You’ll need to hire a dedicated tool. 

This tool can help you in a number of ways to understand your link profile as well as that of your competitors.

And each time offers you useful insights to use in your strategy.

Backlink Analysis

Start by using the Backlink Analysis tool to collect data on your domain’s backlink profile, as well as those of your competitors. 

You will then get a whole host of metrics and data points to help you develop a better strategy. 

Once you have entered a domain into the tool, you can begin to acquire in-depth information about the site’s link profile.

But what is this information that you can get from the tool? 

And how to take advantage of it in your strategy?

Referring Domain Categories 

Here you can see how domains that point to a site are categorized thematically, which helps you understand what the thematic relevance of a domain’s link profile looks like, and therefore identify sectors and opportunities to target with your own campaigns.

Best Anchors 

Knowing the most common link anchor texts on a domain’s backlink profile is a great way to minimize the risk of negative actions associated with toxic link-building tactics, and also to ensure that your strategy targets natural link texts.

Referring Domains by Authority Score 

Understand the quality of a link profile by looking at SEMrush’s Authority Score breakdown. This will not only help you know how your site is performing but also determine how you stack up against the competition.

Referring domains

The number of unique referring domains has a strong relationship with SERP rankings; using it to compare yourself to your competitors will help you identify the real gaps that separate you in terms of backlinks.

Link Attributes 

Once you understand the difference between follow, no-follow, sponsored, and UGC links, you can use this information to plan a strategy that replicates the successful link profiles of competitors ahead of you. 


Analyzing a competitor’s backlinks can help you spot link acquisition opportunities for your own domain while keeping an eye on who is pointing to you and how they are doing it.

TLD Distribution

are your links mainly from the main country where you operate? Are there any link-building opportunities globally that work for your competitors? Knowing the TLD distribution of a link profile allows you to understand a company’s strategy at a more general level.

Similar Profiles

Looking to dig deep into your competitors’ link profiles? In the “similar profiles,” you will find examples of other domains with similar link profiles to those of the best-performing sites, which will allow you to find new opportunities.

Main Pages

Here you can see which pages have the highest number of links pointing to them and plan how to use this link capital in your internal linking strategy.

If you want detailed information about your backlink profile or that of any domain.

You’ll find it all in Backlink Analytics.

Don’t underestimate the power of competitive analysis. 

With the right tools, you will be able to build great links, which will help you improve your rankings and increase your organic traffic.

How to Get Backlinks to Your Site?

How do you go about building backlinks? 

In reality, there are many ways to do this.

But some have a much higher success rate and will help you build better-quality links than others. 

A common misconception is that you always have to go through an agency to build links. 

But this is not true. 

There are many techniques to start acquiring good links easily. 

Let’s look at some common (but relatively simple) methods for acquiring links to your site:

1. Ask Your Suppliers to Point to You

If you sell products to people.

You know that your suppliers’ sites usually have a ‘Where to Buy’ or ‘Resellers’ page with details (and links) for each.

Often you will find that you are not included in these lists, as they are usually not updated as frequently as they should be. 

Find the resellers page on your vendors’ sites and, if you’re not there, get in touch with them and ask them to add you.

2. Use Platforms to Respond to Journalists’ Queries

HARO (Help A Reporter Out) is a well-established platform where journalists seek sources and quotes for upcoming events. 

Sign up and get three source query emails per day (Monday through Friday) related to your or your client’s industry.

When a query matches your experience, send a response within the specified time frame. 

If used, there’s a good chance you’ll get a link. 

Be careful, however, any answer presented does not lead to the acquisition of a link. 

Only respond when you’re sure you can add value through your experience.

And don’t be afraid to say clearly that you hope to get a link back.

3. Write a Guest Post for a Trade Publication

Even though Google’s Matt Cutts claimed in 2014 that guest blogging was dead.

He was referring to low-quality guest posts, written for the purpose of acquiring links anywhere your content is willing to be published.

Today guest posting remains an excellent tactic for acquiring links and sharing your information and experience in thematically relevant specialized publications. 

Let’s say you’re looking to write guest posts about health.

Go to Google and search for: health intitle:”write articles”

Using the intitle advanced search operator with a keyword will return results for pages that contain “write articles” in the title. 

4. Use Niche Directories

Most industries and niches have active directories that recommend and highlight businesses that operate in that industry. 

You will also find local variants for many cities. 

As with guest posting, you can use Google to find opportunities.

Let’s say you’re an accountant: you can do a Google search for accounting intitle: “directory”

You will quickly be presented with specialized directories to which you can submit your site. 

5. Turn Brand Mentions into Links

Most businesses get media coverage from time to time, whether regionally, nationally, or internationally, as a result of a new product or service launch, a new hire, or even a charity campaign. 

Whatever the reason, it’s not uncommon for mentions in the press to not contain a link. 

But the hardest part is done: providing coverage.

It’s always worth contacting the reporter or editor when you’ve been mentioned in the press without a link and asking them to add one. 

Some won’t, but some will and it’s a really easy way to get high-quality links. 

You can monitor your brand mentions with the Brand Monitoring tool.

It’s as easy as creating a campaign around your domain, your brand terms, and your target country.

You can also set a reporting frequency (and receive a report straight to your inbox so you never miss an opportunity).

The tool allows you to filter, in your dashboard, the mentions that point to your site and those that do not. 

You will then have a clear list of mentions to work on in your link request strategy.

You can submit these brand mentions directly into our Link Building tool to organize your link request efforts. 

Connect your email account, send introductory emails, and track the mentions you manage to turn into links.

6. Become a Cited Resource

If you have spent time creating good content or a good product.

You should be looking to build links where you are cited as a resource. 

For example, many universities have “career resource” sections like this.

There are sometimes links to platforms presenting jobs for graduates. 

If your company is in the business of recruiting graduates.

You can contact these sites and explain why they should add you as a resource to help students start their careers.

Opportunities like this exist in every industry.

And you can take the same approach using great content, or your primary product or service. 

7. Publish Research and Summarize it For the Press

A unique search is a safe bet for getting media coverage for your business, but don’t think it’s a quick and easy task.

Launching a PR campaign based on your data or third-party data takes time, but it’s definitely worth it. 

Journalists and editors love to share research and studies.

And it can be a great way to gain some fantastic links if you’re willing to put the time and effort into it.

Here’s a great guide to help you better understand this tactic. 

8. Analyze Your Competitor’s Backlink Profile to Identify Opportunities

If you are looking to identify opportunities to acquire the links that help your competitors rank, you can analyze their backlink profiles.

For this, you can use the Backlink Opportunities tool. 

You will discover untapped backlink opportunities.

Simply enter your domain along with those of your main competitors:

This is a great way to determine your gaps in relation to your competitors’ link-building strategy and prioritize where your competitors got links from a domain.

But you didn’t.

Dispelling Common Myths About Backlinks

Link building has changed a lot in the last ten years but in a good way. 

However, this means that a lot of myths persist about backlinks, and we want to debunk a few of them. 

So when you come across it in the future, you’ll know which advice to follow and which to avoid.

1. The More Links You Have, the Better You will Rank

One can understand where this belief comes from, but it is not necessarily true. 

As we’ve shown before, not all links are created equal.

And one great link from a newspaper or major industry publication can be worth hundreds of poor-quality links from blog comments or posts that have nothing to do with your business. 

Link building is not about numbers, you need to acquire quality links at scale. 

That said, there is a strong relationship between the number of quality links and high search engine rankings.

But don’t just focus on the numbers.

As this could lead to low-quality link-bringing tactics, which will hurt your rankings more than they will improve them.

2. Don’t Waste Time with Nofollow Links

It’s a common myth, but it’s often taken totally out of context. 

Historically, no-follow links didn’t impact your SEO performance.

But in September 2019 Google announced that it was a hint, not a guideline.

Many SEO specialists think that Google, based on other signals, might choose to follow a link with a no-follow attribute.

For example when it comes to top-ranking newspapers that automatically no-follow all their external links. 

And anyway, no-follow links still send traffic and boost your credibility. 

As long as the links are relevant and come from trusted sources, don’t disregard them just because they’re no-follow.

3. Buying Links is a Quick Way to Boost Your Rankings

You must be very careful, when you buy links (or give free products in exchange for a link), to the quality of these.

And it is better to entrust this action to net-linking professionals. 

Messy, massive link buying can quickly amount to a direct violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

And it can negatively affect your rankings or even result in a penalty.

If you are sponsoring content for any reason other than getting a link, you should use the rel=” sponsored” attribute.

4. Tool link scores are the only way to identify a quality link

Many mistakenly believe that the only way to identify a quality link is to look at its link score in a tool; it is not true. 

Incidentally, John Mueller recently confirmed that Google does not use any of these scores as a ranking factor.

It is simply a metric calculated by a tool to try to indicate potential authority in the eyes of search engines.

However, it is important to understand that it is not a ranking factor or a factor that explicitly determines the quality of a link. 

If a link is from a relevant resource and has been placed in an editorial context, which means it can send targeted traffic, don’t dismiss it just because it was poorly rated in a tool.

A natural link profile contains links from different sources, from different eras, and from different levels of authority.

And it is not natural or realistic to acquire links only from highly authoritative sources.

5. You Receive a Penalty if You Acquire Too Many Links

An old myth is that acquiring too many links in a short period of time results in a penalty for your site. 

But it is a legend. 

Imagine running a PR campaign that gets hundreds of editorial links placed on unique posts within days (e.g. for a product launch, research study, etc.).

It’s just natural virality, and you obviously won’t be penalized for it. 

As long as you’re building quality links, you don’t have to worry about getting too many. 

This myth comes from those who buy artificial links.


Backlinks are a key ranking factor and you can’t ignore them if you want to rank well on Google. 

Link building is a huge area of ​​SEO in its own right, and you’ll find plenty of specialists who focus solely on it. 

But luckily there are plenty of ways to get started with quick and effective tactics, like the ones we’ve listed above.

Build good links, and you will see an increase in your rankings. 

Just be sure to keep an eye on what your competitors are doing and seize new opportunities as fast as you can!

Thanks for Reading.

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